1. The Genre of Acts                                                                         3



2. The Plan of Acts                                                                            11



3. The Speeches of Acts                                                                     18



4. The Spirit in Acts                                                                           33



5. The Christology of Acts                                                                 39



Bibliography                                                                                       44









The first essential question to be addressed before beginning to take seriously any document is the genre of that document. Is this piece of paper in my hands a love-letter, a thank-you letter, an advertisement, a ballad, a police report, a chronicle, an historian’s assessment, a cooking recipe? Until the authorial intent has been established no attempt can be made to interpret or understand the document. Conveniently, Luke[1] has provided us with a Preface to each volume, which gives useful clues. A first datum established by the Prefaces[2] is that these two books in fact form a pair, the second volume a continuation of the first, each roughly the same length, the conventional length of a scroll in the ancient world, and each dedicated to Theophilus. Like other such pairs of volumes in the ancient world, there is a slight overlap or interlock, for both volumes describe the Ascension and the return of the disciples to Jerusalem (Lk 24.50-53; Ac 1.6-12).  They were separated only in the second century, when the first scroll was hived off to join the other gospels.


A large number of short treatises, of about the length of Lk's work, have been examined in Loveday Alexander’s authoritative work (Alexander 1993). She establishes that it was a convention to begin with a preface similar to his, including such matters as name of author and recipient, his aim, the sources of his information, the importance of the subject, and a claim to personal competence for the task. Luke's preface accords with these conventions, though in detail it is more similar to medical, mechanical, military and mathematical treatises than to historical works.


There is, however, a major difference between the two works, Luke and Acts, in that the gospel is dependent for its outline and much of its content on Mark’s gospel. Where Luke is independent of Mark, for example in the Infancy Narratives, the Resurrection Appearances and a large number of Parables, he spreads his wings remarkably and shows his own style, versatility and theology. For Acts it is quite unclear whether he is dependent on any written source. Is it necessarily of the same genre as the gospel?





A travel document?

Certainly there is a whole range of material which would be counted as good history by modern standards. It has long been recognised that Acts shows a convincing knowledge of material elements, such as magistrates and legal details. The constitutional details of different cities around the mediterranean differed widely; their magistrates had different names and different powers, and all of these Acts gives correctly, mentioning the 'proconsul' as governing Cyprus, the 'generals' as magistrates at Philippi, the 'Asiarchs' and the 'town clerk' as officials at Ephesus. These details suggest that the author made use of a travellogue, perhaps a diary suggesting journey-times and places to stay, garnered for the benefit of future travellers. It meshes well with the ‘We-passages’ (stretches of narrative recounted in the first person plural, implying the presence on the journey of the author of an underlying document), which appear in the later part of the book.


Two hesitations should, however, be expressed with regard to the historical force of these data. Firstly, there is a considerable difference between the fairly dry, factual details of travel (e.g. 16.11-14) and the more elaborate set-pieces (e.g. 16.19-40), which are far more dramatic and often contain considerable improbabilities (Why does Paul not disclose his Roman citizenship earlier? How does it happen that the earthquake merely shakes free the bonds of the prisoners without harming them? Why does the gaoler think he will be held responsible? Why are the magistrates unaware of the earthquake?). Secondly, careful research is not the same as accurate reporting. The vigour of Dickens’ writing derives from his disturbingly detailed knowledge of the underworld of Victorian London, but this ‘authenticity’ does not imply the existence of a real Oliver Twist or Mr Jagger.



Not all elements, however, may be assumed to be literally exact in the way expected of a modern historian. Since the time of Thucydides, 500 years before Lk, it had been the convention that if a historian did not know what a speaker had said on a particular occasion, the historian would put in the speaker's mouth what it would have been appropriate for him to say.


In this history I have made use of set speeches, some of which were delivered just before and others during the war. I have found it difficult to remember the precise words used in the speeches which I heard myself, and my various informants have experienced the same difficulty; so my method has been, while keeping as closely as possible to the general sense of the words that were actually used, to make the speakers say what, in my opinion, was called for by each situation.

                                                                        Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War, I.22


This became an important means for the historian to convey his view of events. Before the description of a battle it became the convention for historians to put in the mouth of the opposing generals a speech to their troops, explaining the issues at stake, how things had come to such a pass, the likely consequences of defeat and victory. (An excellent example is the speeches of the Roman and Scots generals before the battle at the Mons Graupius [?=Grampians] which finally secured England for the Romans. The Scottish and the Roman general each speaks for two pages[3]). These issues may well have been in the mind of the generals, if they were sufficiently clear-sighted, but it is hardly likely that generals would have spelled out these matters to battle-hungry troops, but it makes the historian's comment more dramatic and forceful than the modern convention of frank admission that this is the historian's own interpretation. Such a convention was surely at work in the drafting of speeches in Acts. As will be seen below, the speeches convey the author’s views and comments on a situation (e.g. Stephen’s speech, 7.2-53). At the same time Luke’s capacity for prosopopoeia is remarkable, that is, he goes to considerable lengths to fit the speech to the speaker (e.g. especially Paul’s farewell speech at Miletus, 20.18-35). But then training in writing speeches in different styles for different occasions, what X might have said on a particular occasion, was an important part of rhetorical training at that time. The student was trained in writing pastiches, just as the modern student of classics is trained in writing prose in the different styles of Cicero or Livy, and the student of music in writing an anthem in the style of Monteverdi or Lassus[4].


Similarly, ancient historians were less meticulous about checking individual facts. Quintilian, the contemporary arbiter of all style, allows the inclusion in a history of details typical of an event (e.g. the sack of a town, in which buildings are always burnt to the ground, children slaughtered in the street and women brutally raped), even if they are not recorded in this particular case. The same convention appears in those great works The Conquest of Peru and The Conquest of Mexico by Pearson.


An Apologia?

A recurrent element in Acts is the attempt to show the compatibility between Christianity and the Roman empire. The first gentile convert is a Roman centurion (10.1-48). The proconsul of Cyprus, ‘an extremely intelligent man’, became a believer (13.7, 12). The magistrates at Philippi are embarrassed and frightened at having flogged and imprisoned Paul and Silas, both Roman citizens (16.37). The proconsul of Achaia will have nothing to do with accusations against Paul, asserting that Roman law has nothing to say on the matter (18.12-17). The Asiarchs, priests of the cult of Roma at Ephesus, are friends of Paul and send him helpful private messages (19. 30-31). Finally, Paul is  plucked from persecution at the hands of hostile Jews by a fair-minded and well-disposed Roman tribune, who labours tirelessly and vigorously to ensure that Paul escapes their malicious and underhand plots and ambushes. Paul is repeatedly declared innocent by two Roman governors, nevertheless appeals to the emperor himself, and has no charges brought against him at Rome.


The classic form of the apologia-theory was that Luke wished to show the Romans that they had nothing to fear from Christianity. More recently, however, it has been seen that this theory is more comfortable on its head: to show the Christians that they had nothing to fear from the Roman authorities. Each theory would fit the times of persecution towards the end of the first century. The decisive factor is that Acts is clearly intended for reading by a Christian, not a Roman audience.


An important question raised by this theory is the extent to which it has formed the story. In particular, did Luke create Paul a Roman citizen for this purpose? On two occasions in the story Paul produces his Roman citizenship like a rabbit out of a hat to get himself out of a sticky position – and on each occasion rather too late (16.37; 21.39). Instances of Jews being Roman citizens can certainly be produced (e.g. Josephus, Antiquities 14.228, 231-40), and scenarios can be devised for how Paul achieved this rare and expensive honour[5]; but none of the Jews instanced is known to have held the strict Pharisaic religious tenets of Paul, which might well be considered incompatible with Roman citizenship. Worship of Rome and the emperor was certainly abhorrent to the author of the Book of Revelation, and was used as a criterion of apostasy from Christianity by Pliny in c. 116 (Pliny, Letters, 10.96). Paul’s instructions to obey civil authorities and pay taxes (Rm 13.1-9) are no counter-argument. Exceptionally, it was known for Roman citizens to be flogged, but this was utterly illegal and was regarded with horror. It is difficult to conceive that it happened three times to a Roman citizen (2 Cor 11.25 – this is described in the strictly technical terms of a Roman flogging). Luke mentions almost casually that Silas, a second Roman citizen, was flogged too (16.37); how did Silas get his citizenship?


The two most difficult points of all are that Paul nowhere in his letters makes mention or hint of this Roman citizenship, not even when he is introducing himself to and vigorously currying favour with the Christians of Rome (Rm 1.1-15; 15.14-16.20). A final uncomfortable illogicality is the appeal to Rome. It is hard to believe - and no historical parallel has been produced[6] – that a lower court’s acquittal did not dissolve and supercede an appeal to the emperor (25.18-21). If Paul had already been pronounced innocent, how could he appeal for further acquittal? The imperial courts would be kept busy if they were expected to confirm acquittals from all over the empire! Was this a piece of Lukan machinery designed to take Paul to the capital of empire?


A Succession Narrative?

There are a number of cases in the Bible where a great leader passes his leadership on to another, such as Moses passing his leadership to Joshua (Numbers 27.15-23; Jos 1.1-5) or Elijah passing his cloak and spirit to Elisha (2 Kgs 2). In the sphere of Hellenistic history the Lives of Diogenes Laertius provide further examples. C.H. Talbert, in Talbert 1974, argues that such is the case with Luke and Acts. By a series of parallels the author sets out to show that the era of the apostles corresponds to and continues the era of Jesus, carrying on his work. Only now it is not through the physical presence of Jesus, but rather through the presence of his Spirit.


Luke                                                               Acts

1.1-4 Preface dedicating to Theophilus  1.1-5 Preface dedicating to Theophilus

3.21   Jesus praying at his baptism                     1.14   Disciples praying in Upper Room

3.22   Spirit descends in visible form                 2.1-13 Spirit descends in visible form

4.16-30 Jesus’ opening sermon:                        2.14-40 Peter’s opening address:

            Prophecy fulfilled, Jesus rejected                       Prophecy fulfilled, Jesus rejected

5.17-26 Lame man healed by Jesus                  3.1-10 Lame man healed in Jesus’ name

5.29-6.11 Conflict with religious leaders            4.1-8.3 Conflict with religious leaders

7.1-10 Centurion invites Jesus, finds faith          10      Centurion  invites Peter, finds faith

7.11-17 Dead raised to life, sits up                    9.36-43 Dead raised to life, sits up

9.7-9 Death of John, witness to Jesus                8.60 Death of Stephen, witness to Jesus[7]

10.1-12 Mission of 70 to gentiles                      13-20 Missions of Paul to gentiles

9.51-19.28 Jesus journeys to death in Jerus      19.21-21.17 Paul journeys to death in Jer

13.33 His awareness of impending death           21.23 His awareness of impending death

22.21-36 Jesus’ farewell discourse                   20.18-35 Paul’s farewell discourse

22-23 Jesus’ trials (Sanh, Roman, Herod)         23-26Paul’s trials (Sanh, Roman, Herod)

            Jesus slapped by HP’s servant              Paul slapped at HP’s command

            Roman thrice declares innocent             Romans thrice declare innocent

            Jews cry ai`/re tou/ton                                       Jews cry ai`/re auvto,n


This, claims Talbert, is an instance of the record of the life of a founder of a philosophical school plus a record of his successors and selected other disciples. Luke’s purpose, as he says in Lk 1.4, is to provide Theophilus with avsfalei,a or certainty. Against a background of uncertainty and controversy about true and reliable doctrine, such as we see in the Pastoral Letters, it ‘would enable him to say that the true tradition in his time was located in certain successors of Paul (Ac 20:17-35)’ (Talbert, p. 135) The parallels are certainly there for all to see, and must have been stated consciously in order to show that the life and work of the Church carries on that of Jesus. It is, however, doubtful whether the Sitz im Leben of controversy between different Christian tendencies envisaged by Talbert is necessarily is the main motive force behind the author.


Historical Novel?

The most exciting recent suggestion is that of Richard I. Pervo in his book Profit with Delight (Pervo 1987). The title of his book (no doubt also intending a pun) is drawn from Horace’s Ars Poetica 343-4, ‘He who has joined utility with charm, entertaining at the same time as edifying the reader, carries off the prize in one’[8]. Pervo argues that there is no necessity for Acts to belong to the same genre as the gospel[9], and claims that, though of course its chief purpose is to edify and instruct, Acts uses many of the techniques of the contemporary novel to make this instruction and edification entertaining. Thus he lists 33 episodes of exciting and miraculous escapes, imprisonment, martyrdom, mob-scenes, trials and shipwreck. Plentiful use is made also of irony, mockery and burlesque. All of these are standard features of novels of the period.


One example of such a novel must suffice. Chariton’s historical novel Callirhoe survives in one medieval manuscript, received its first critical edition in 1938 and its first Greek-English edition in 1995 (Loeb Classical Texts). On grounds of style and content its composition is dated between 25BC and 50AD. A hundred years later it was still highly popular as light fiction (suitable for any airport bookstall and still today an excellent bedtime read), and may well have been known to Luke. This delightful tale includes many of the elements used in Acts, careful attention to historical detail, plenty of sea-voyages and shipwreck, set in the eastern mediterranean, centred on Miletus, with a visit to Athens (whose citizens are described as inquisitive, talkative and fond of litigation, 1.11) and a capture of Tyre (near Antioch), a high proportion of speeches (40%), unexpected escapes and last-minute rescue, trial-scenes and justification before royalty. As Callirhoe is the most beautiful girl in the world, the love interest of course predominates, but it is also a moral tale, where fidelity and honesty are rewarded and the wicked get their deserts.


Pervo’s approach has been fiercely criticised[10]. C.K. Barrett in his great commentary on Acts is tolerant: ‘There is nothing un-Christian in getting pleasure from telling a good story. Or in reading one; and we may suppose that Luke was pleased that readers should enjoy reading his book’[11]. David Aune is more critical; among his chief criticisms are that in history truth need not be sacrificed to entertainment, and that novels do not contain historical prefaces[12]. His solution (p. 141) is that Paul treats Christianity as a nation separate from either Jews or Greeks (Phil 3.20, ‘our citizenship is in heaven’) and that ‘Luke-Acts provides a historical justification for the theological concepts of Christianity’s “national consciousness”’. The contrast with Callirhoe as well as the comparison is instructive. Although many of the techniques and machinery of narration are similar, a simple reading shows the absurdity of calling Acts a historical novel. At least Callirhoe is romantic fiction, where love triumphs over all odds, though with a strong moral tinge, while Acts is the account of the spread of a religious belief and ideal, where God, the Lord Jesus and the Spirit triumph over all odds.


If this is accepted, however, it must also be allowed that different criteria for historical truth were admissible. Polybius coined the expression ‘dramatic history’, into which the reader is drawn in by a certain amount of drama and emotion. Polybius criticizes excessive use of drama and emotion, but can still write such purple passages as, ‘when some recalled Arsinoe’s orphanhood and others the insults and outrages inflicted on her, the people fell into such a state of affliction that the whole town was full of groans, tears and ceaseless lamentation’ (Histories, 15.24.9) or ‘he himself spent the greater part of the day and night in drinking and the debauchery which commonly accompanies it, sparing neither women in the flower of their age nor brides nor virgins’ (15.25.22) – passages which reflect rhetoric more than would be acceptable in modern historical writing. Lucian, in his second-century work How to Write History, criticises equally florid praise and u`po,mnhma tw/n gegono,twn gumno.n (bare rehearsal of what happened)’ (7-16); a certain amount of embellishment is not out of place. Clearly Luke sometimes dramatizes (the riot at Ephesus, 19.19; the disturbance in the Temple, 22.22) and stresses the wonderful (Paul’s casual recovery after being stoned and left for dead, 14.20).






At this point it may be useful to instance as examples of different techniques three incidents described in Acts in ways which violate, or at least differ from modern canons of historical writing.


  • The three accounts of Paul’s conversion. Although clearly written in the knowledge that they may be compared, they differ from one another in stating the witnesses of the phenomena. In Acts 9.7 Saul’s companions heard the voice but saw no one. In Acts 22.9 ‘the people with me saw the light but did not hear the voice’. In Acts 26.14, ‘We all fell to the ground and I heard a voice’. These are simply instances of elegant variatio, expressing the fact that Paul alone experienced the fullness of the encounter with Christ. More importantly, the description of the scene is in each case modelled upon the conversion of Heliodorus in 2 Mc 3.24-37, thereby expressing that the persecutor of God’s people had been converted to be the protagonist and witness to the truth. The three accounts differ in other respects also. For instance, speaking to the Jews in the Temple, Paul naturally adds an introduction stressing his Jewish credentials, his training by Gamaliel and the trust reposed in him by the high priest  and the council of elders (22.3-5), underlining Ananias’ fidelity to the Law (22.12), and the subsequent reception in the Temple of his commission to preach (22.17-21). The question must be asked whether Luke is describing the same moment as that described by Paul of his spiritual experience in 2 Cor 12.2-4. Much more important, however, is the question whether Luke simply makes up an external account of an incident more profoundly recounted by Paul himself. A certain similarity will be immediately obvious to the narrative techniques used in such stories as the Annunciation and the Journey to Emmaus.


  • Peter’s miraculous deliverance in Acts 12.4-19. Miraculous escapes from prison are one of the stock-in-trade features of fiction of the period, notched up also by the apostles as a group (5.19) and by Paul (16.25-26). This occasion is recounted with all Luke’s wit, humour and suspense: the sleepy Peter, who needs to be instructed in each step (like a child unexpectedly awoken in the night); the idiotic servant-girl leaving Peter perilously in the street, knocking vainly; Peter is let out by an angel and kept out as an angel; the unfortunate guards, who suffer the execution originally planned for Peter. Justin Taylor[13] conjectures, ‘How was he released? For the historian who is looking for an alternative to the purely supernatural explanation given by the Acts it is not clear. It has been suggested that Peter found a way to escape (perhaps an inside accomplice), or that Agrippa himself ordered his release’. Does the account merely emphasize that, James having been beheaded (Ac 12.2), if Agrippa’s lethal designs had been executed on Peter too, this would have been disastrous for the future of the Church? If so, it is not a historical account at all, but a quasi-historical expression of a theological judgement.


  • The worship at Lystra in Acts 14.8-18. Mischievously underlying this incident is a passage in Ovid’s Metamorphoses (8.611-724). The gods Zeus and Hermes go on a walk-about in human form in Phrygia (next door to Lycaonia), but are not recognised or reverenced by anyone till eventually they come upon an old couple, Baucis and Philemon, who duly sacrifice to them. Zeus and Hermes ask their dearest wish, which is to stay together for ever – in consequence of which they are transformed into a single tree with two intertwining trunks, ‘which can still be seen to this day’. Luke does not allow the Lycaonians to make the same mistake as their neighbours the Phrygians, but sends them to the opposite extreme, excessive worship. The humour is increased by the bewilderment of Barnabas and Paul, who obviously fail to understand what is going on ‘in the language of Lycaonia’ (14.11), until they see the ludicrously elaborate preparation of the garlanded oxen. Again, this would not today be considered a piece of serious history. It conveys a serious theological lesson, the inappropriateness of worshipping human beings – or anyone in the form of a human being – but by means of an entertaining piece of burlesque, appealing especially to those who recognise it as parody.


A Theodicy?

Luke Timothy Johnson, author of one of the best recent commentaries on Luke and Acts (Johnson 1991 and 1992), maintains that the double volume is a theodicy, that is, that its chief purpose is to justify the ways of God. How is it that the Jews, to whom God had promised a Messiah, rejected their Messiah, and that the message turned to the gentiles? How can there be any avsfalei,a here, any safety either that this is the case or that God’s promises will not in turn desert the gentiles who have responded to them? ‘The question posed both by the inclusion of the Gentiles and the exclusion of the Jews is: does God keep his promises? If God is not faithful then the Gentiles who now enjoy God’s favor are really no better off than the Jews’ (Johnson 1992, p. 8). This again is a frequent preoccupation with the author, but it is doubtful that it is his whole interest in the story.









The plan of Acts may be considered in several different ways. The framework may be seen in a geographical way or a liturgical way, or as a balance of apostolates of Peter and Paul, or finally as an analysis of the relationship of Jew and gentile within the framework of those who ‘call on the name of the Lord Jesus’.


1. Geographical

This is suggested by the Risen Lord’s authoritative pronouncement before the Ascension, ‘You will be my witnesses not only in Jerusalem but throughout Judaea and Samaria, and indeed to earth’s remotest end’ (Ac 1.8).



The central role of Jerusalem can be seen to be elaborated in the course of the narrative. Jerusalem is the pivot and focus throughout the story of Acts, as it was also in Luke’s gospel. The gospel as a whole, and the Infancy Narratives in miniature, begin and end in Jerusalem, the Infancy Narratives in the Temple itself. The whole of the second half of the gospel, concentrated on the teaching on discipleship, consists of the great journey to Jerusalem for the Passion (Lk 9.51-19.28), since no prophet can perish apart from Jerusalem. When Jesus arrives there, Luke’s treatment of Jerusalem differs markedly from that of the other synoptic evangelists: he has a great affection and reverence for the city. Jesus does not rubbish the Temple, as in Mark and Matthew; he cleanses it, and then uses it as the pulpit for his daily teaching (Lk 19.47). Jesus’ ministry in Jerusalem is bracketed by his prophetic mourning over the city: at the beginning, ‘As Jesus came in sight of the city, he shed tears over it and said, “If you too had only recognised on this day the way to peace!” (Lk 19.41). At the end he turns to the crowds following him and says, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep rather for yourselves and for your children (Lk 23.28). The Resurrection Appearances, distributed by both Matthew and John (and there is a similar suggestion in Mark 16.7) between Jerusalem and Galilee, are concentrated by Luke in Jerusalem. Luke even adjusts Mark’s angelic message to fit, from ‘He is going ahead of you to Galilee; that is where you will see him, as he said’, to ‘He is not here. He has risen. Remember what he told you when he was still in Galilee’ (Lk 24.6).


Once the Acts begins, Jerusalem is again central, but in a different way. It is the place of the ideal Christian community, presented by Luke in several summaries (Ac 2.42-47; 4.32-35; 5.12-16) vibrant with all the Christian characteristics, for example:


They remained faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood and to the prayers. And everyone was filled with awe; the apostles worked many signs and miracles. And all who shared the faith owned everything in common; they sold their goods and possessions and distributed the proceeds among themselves according to what each one needed. Each day, with one heart, they regularly went to the Temple but met in their homes for the breaking of bread.


Here are the model elements in the Christian life. Prayer had been a factor stressed by Luke in Jesus’ own life; he shows Jesus more constantly at prayer than do the other evangelists, at the Baptism, at the testing in the desert, before choosing the Twelve, before teaching them his own Lord’s Prayer, at the Transfiguration. Now prayer is the constant basis of the life of Jesus’ disciples. The gospel has also stressed the danger of individual wealth (the Rich Young Ruler, Lk 18.18-23; the dreadful parable of the Rich Fool, Lk 12.16-21; the Rich Man and Lazarus, Lk 16.19-31). Now the disciples are seen putting into practice community of goods[14]. The eucharist is also a staple part of the life.


As the spread of the gospel proceeds Jerusalem remains firmly present in the background. It is the place where decisions affecting the whole Church are made (Ac 15.2-29), and to which Paul returns regularly to check his message, and finally to demonstrate the homage of the gentile communities to the mother-community by means of the great Collection (Rm 15.26-32, but only hinted by Ac 21.24, perhaps because it did not succeed in being the major gesture of reconciliation which Paul had hoped).


Judaea and Samaria

The spread of the gospel to these two areas, sparked by the persecution in Jerusalem, is next documented by Philip’s ministry to Samaria and on the road to Gaza (8.4-40), and by Peter’s activities in the coastal strip, Lydda, Jaffa and Caesarea (9.30-10.48).


Earth’s remotest end

One of the puzzles of Acts is its ending. It does not conclude with the death of Paul or his release to continue his mission. One explanation is that ‘earth’s remotest end’ is a deliberate expression signifying Rome. It is a phrase used plentifully by Isaiah, e.g. 49.6, ‘so that my salvation may reach to earth’s remotest end’. In the Psalms of Solomon 8.15, however, it is a poetic cypher for Rome itself. The ending of Acts would then make sense. The gospel is brought to its goal at earth’s remotest end. There, in accordance with his theme of rejection by Israel, Luke shows Paul first offering it to the Jews with minimal success (Ac 28.24). Just as he had done in Asia Minor and Greece, now for the third time (an emphatic number) Paul declares that this rejection is in accordance with scripture. This had been attested by the quotation of Isaiah 49.6 in the synagogue at Antioch in Pisidia and the biblical gesture of shaking the dust of their feet in protest (Ac 13.47-51). In Greece again, when the Jews start to insult him, he ostentatiously shakes out his cloak in front of them and makes the solemn traditional declaration, ‘Your blood be upon your own heads; from now on I will go to the gentiles with a clear conscience’ (Ac 18.6). Now in Rome, he attests rejection by the Jews for the third time with the most solemn declaration of all, using the quotation which seems to have been used throughout the Christian preaching as an explanation for the extraordinary phenomenon of the rejection by the Jews of the fulfilment of their own hope, Isaiah 6.9. It plays the same part in Mark 4.12; Matthew 13.14-15 and John 12.40. This makes the ending of Acts not abrupt but rounded.


2. Liturgical/Sacramental

The first instance in Luke’s writing of the Christian apostolate occurs in the story of the disciples on the way to Emmaus. This has been characterized as ‘the myth of the Christian apostolate’[15]. It is another of Luke's beautifully told stories, and one vital for explaining the process of evangelisation. Jesus himself explains the resurrection, as Luke will do in the Acts,  in terms of the Old Testament prophecies; which make sense of and give meaning to the events of Jesus life, ministry, death and resurrection. Only after this explanation do the disciples recognise the stranger for what he is. The explanation leads on to the shared meal, at which the recognition of Jesus actually takes place. This in its turn is the forerunner of the community meal, the sacrament of the eucharist.


The story is told with all Luke's skill of characterisation and surprise. The disciples are depressed, 'their faces downcast', and tell their story with a dull wistfulness in their disappointment at the failure of their hopes. This turns to excitement as they agree 'Did not our hearts burn within us...?' and they 'set out that instant'. The element of suspense so prominent in hellenistic novels, is woven into the gospel message in a masterly fashion.


Exactly the same process of scriptural instruction leading to sacrament as was initiated by Jesus on the road to Emmaus comes to view in the story of the baptism of the Ethiopian in Ac 8.26-40. This, too, has the explanation of Jesus' role by means of scripture, leading to enlightenment and a sacrament (baptism) - an example of the kerygma in action. It, too, has the lively dialogue and the surprise elements of sudden appearance and disappearance. Each begins with a journey, for Luke-Acts is full of journeying, a metaphor for and the mode of evangelisation. Each has a meeting, and ends with a separation and a further spread of the good news. Each story has the same pattern, built on a chiasmus to emphasise the centre, which immediately leads to the enlightenment:


Luke 24: a. journey from Jerusalem

b. unenlightened conversation

c. Jesus comes up

d. disciples declare their ignorance

e. Jesus explains the good news

                                                d’. enlightenment in the breaking of bread                  

                                    c’. Jesus departs

                        b’. delight of the disciples

               a’. further spread of the good news


Acts 8:  a. journey from Jerusalem

b. unenlightened reading

c. Philip runs up, urged by the Spirit

d. the Ethiopian declares his ignorance

e. Philip explains the good news of Jesus

d'. enlightenment in baptism

c' Philip taken away by the Spirit

b' delight of the Ethiopian

  a'. further spread of the good news.


There are of course two major differences between the two scenes. The first is that in the gospel, before the Ascension, Jesus is the moving force, whereas in Acts, after the Ascension, it is his Spirit. The second, that the sacrament is different. It is a sort of pardigm of conversion, especially important – and therefore, perhaps, most fully set out – at the beginning of the spread of the faith from Jerusalem. Two other elements presage the wide spread of the faith, namely the mysterious and distant land from which the official comes[16]. It is surely also a meaningful irony that this first convert of Philip should be a eunuch: he displays his zeal by coming on pilgrimage all the way from Ethiopia and by reading Isaiah even on the journey, but in Judaism he was excluded from full membership of God’s people by his sexual state (Deut 23.2, but contrast the promised cancellation of this in Isaiah 56.3). His high office is also important, for Luke is always anxious to show the exalted status of his converts, as the school-friend of Herod (13.1), the proconsul of Cyprus (13.12), Lydia the dealer in that expensive commodity, purple dye (16.14)[17], the many Greek women ‘of high standing’ at Beroea (17.12), Dionysius the Areopagite (17.34).


The pattern of instruction leading to conversion and the coming of the Spirit, so fully set out here, is repeated consistently through the Book of the Acts. It has already occurred at Pentecost (2.41), will follow in the case of Paul (9.17), Cornelius and his household (10.44), the converts at Pisidian Antioch (13.46-51), Lydia and her household (16.14-15), the disciples of John at Ephesus (19.5-6). It is the theme-song of the missionary stage of Acts.


3. The Balancing Apostolates of Peter and Paul

The title ‘Acts of the Apostles’ is slightly misleading, for the spotlight falls on only two figures, Peter and Paul. Of these Peter disappears after his miraculous escape from prison: ‘Then he left and went elsewhere’ (12.17). He reappears briefly in the composite account of the ‘Council of Jerusalem’ (15.7-11), but thereafter leaves the stage entirely to Paul, who is quite definitely the hero of the second half of Acts.


The balance between the two figures is strongly stressed by the parallel structures. This technique is a favourite of Luke, used in his Infancy Narrative to compare and contrast the persons and origins of John the Baptist and Jesus. In each case the faithfulness of John’s parentage, the angelic message, his special vocation, the family joy at his birth is shown, and contrasted with the sanctity of Jesus’ parentage, the angelic message, his unique vocation and the heavenly joy at his birth (Talbert 1974, p. 44). Again in Acts the parallel between Peter and Paul, the obvious main articulation of the story, is shown in detail (cf. Talbert 1974, p. 23):








Peter                                                               Paul

2.1-4 Gift of the Spirit                                       13.1-3 Gift of the Spirit

2.14-40 Peter’s apostolic preaching                  13.16-40 Paul’s apostolic preaching

3.1-10 Peter heals man lame from birth 14.8-13 Paul heals man lame from birth

3.12-26 Peter’s explanation, V,Andrej              14.15-17 Paul’s explanation, V,Andrej

8.19-24 Peter confounds magician Simon          13.6 Paul confounds magician Elymas

9.36-42 Peter raises Dorcas from dead 20.9-12 Paul raises Eutychus from dead

10-11 Peter’s mission to gentiles                       13-21 Paul’s mission to gentiles

10.25 Peter restrains attempt to worship           14.13 Paul restrains attempt to worship

11.2-18 Mission defended at Jerusalem            15.4 Mission defended at Jerusalem

12.4-11 Peter’s imprisonment and release         21-28 Paul’s imprisonment and release.


This table is somewhat bland, and neglects important differences between the two apostles. Nor does it illustrate straightforwardly the division of spheres of influence which Paul announces in Ga 2.7-8, ‘Once they saw that the gospel for the uncircumcised had been entrusted to me, just as to Peter the gospel for the circumcised, for he who empowered Peter’s apostolate for the circumcised also empowered mine for the gentiles’. This schema is neater than the story of Acts would suggest. In fact the part played by Peter in preparing for the entry of the gentiles into the Church was vital and receives emphatic coverage. Similarly, Paul is often seen preaching to Jews; indeed, he makes a principle of it before he is turned by their stubbornness to the gentiles.


The preparation for the major expansion beyond Judaism begins with two incidents, one involving Paul (his conversion/vocation), the other Peter (the Cornelius incident). This forms a sort of overlap, knotting the two figures together. The importance of each is shown by their triple repetition in the course of the story. In both cases Luke is anxious to show that the action is not initiated personally by Paul and Peter, but that each is acting against his previous intentions. The inclusion of the gentiles is no human initiative; the hand of God is at work. Paul’s experience is recounted three times, once on the occasion, once in the Temple (Ac 22.6-21 , with stress appropriate to the audience on Ananias’ devotion to the Law and high standing with the Jews of Damascus, on the title ‘the God of our ancestors’, and a nice little supplement on Paul receiving confirmation in the Temple) and once before the governor and King Agrippa (Ac 26.12-18, with due deference to ‘Your Majesty’ and a nice little classical quip about ‘kicking against the goad’). Similarly, Peter’s sheet comes down three times (Ac 10.16), and the divine justification for Peter’s welcome to Cornelius is thrice told, once on the occasion at the time, when the wonders of Pentecost are repeated to the astonishment of Peter’s companions (Ac 10.44-45), once when Peter justifies himself to the apostles and brothers in Judaea (up a key, ‘I had scarcely begun speaking when…’! Ac 11.15), and once in summary at the Council of Jerusalem (Ac 15.7-9). After the end of the Jerusalem-section it had already been shown that discipleship of Jesus was not to be confined to those approved for Judaism. The hated Samaritans, whom Luke favours so notably in his gospel, had already welcomed the message (8.5), and a further dimension of expansion been initiated by the inclusion of the Ethiopian. Now follows the major preparation for the expansion to gentiles.


The Road to Damascus

The full significance of this incident can be understood only against its biblical models, used by Luke with his consummate skill. As already suggested, the story of the conversion of Heliodorus in 2 Mc 3 is one biblical model, showing that the import of the happening is that the persecutor of God’s people has become its protagonist. It can, however, be disputed whether the correct title is conversion or vocation. Did Paul himself consider that he had been converted from one faith to another, or simply that he had reached a deeper understanding of his Jewish faith in seeing it brought to its fulfilment in Jesus? Another biblical model is indeed the vocation-narrative formula, a quadruple formula of divine call, human response, divine identification and divine command:


Saul                             Jacob (Gn 46.2-3)       Ananias (Ac 9.10-11)

Double call      Saul, Saul                     Jacob, Jacob                Ananias

Reply               Who are you, Lord?     Here I am                     Here I am, Lord

Identification   I am Jesus                    I am El                         The Lord said,

Command       Get up and go               Go down to Egypt        Get up and go


This suggests that the heart of the narrative is not so much a conversion as the conferment of a task to be carried out. The deft and dramatic[18] hand of Luke is unmistable; the account mirrors the annunciations to Zechariah and to Mary, with their introduction of the characters, their divine dialogue and their conferment of the task. In both this story and the following story of Peter’s vision on the roof we see Luke’s device for a really important divine message, a tally-vision: as Ananias has his vision, Paul sees him coming (Ac 9.12); Cornelius has a divine message about Peter and Peter about Cornelius’ messengers (Ac 10.6, 19). Yet, with Luke’s usual prosopoiea, the narrative about Saul is skilfully accommodated to his theological themes: Paul conceives his ministry in terms of a ministry of blinding divine light (2 Cor 3.6-18, cf. Ac 9.3), and the identification of the Christian with Christ is one of his most pervasive insights (Rm 6.1-11; 1 Cor 6.15, cf. Ac 9.4).


The Road to Caesarea

Again a delightfully told tale. Cornelius’ devotedness and generosity prepare for his astonishment and his militarily swift obedience. Peter dozes off at his midday prayer and, dreaming about lunch, explodes his disgust at the ‘unclean and impure food’ with the vivid[19] Mhdamw/j (‘No way!’), apologetically joined with the respectful ku,rie, and the alliterative koino.n kai. avka,qarton (saying the same thing twice, for both words mean the same). With gentle wit the divine voice takes up the two words in reverse order, ‘What God has made pure (evkaqa,risen) don’t you make unclean (koi,nou)!’, which leaves Peter gob-smacked. Peter is so nonplussed that, when the messengers, having perseveringly asked all over the place (dierwth,santej), turn up at that moment, the Spirit has to coax him along, ‘Hey, there’s a couple of guys looking for you. Now move! Go down and get going with them! Don’t hang around! You see, I’m the one who sent them.’ Colonel Cornelius knows exactly how long it takes to get from Joppe to Caesarea, and has his relations and close friends assembled ready to witness his dramatic gesture (sunanta,w is normally used of going out in procession to meet a monarch) of going out and falling flat on the ground (the Roman commandant before a provincial nobody!). Cornelius makes the most of the vision too, adding in the ‘shining robes’ (10.30), unmentioned in 10.3. Luke wickedly suggests a touch of resentment, too, when ‘the faithful from the circumcision’ (10.44) are left staring open-mouthed at the charismatic gentiles. The reader is left in no doubt of the Spirit’s wishes.


After these two unforgettably dramatic episodes of Paul and Peter to set afoot the mission to the gentiles, the two leaders partner again at the Council of Jerusalem, after which Peter is heard of no more. The reader is, however, constantly reminded of their partnership by the parallel details of their ministries. It would, nevertheless, be a mistake to erect the prominence of these two apostles into a sort of aretology or laudatory biography. We are not informed of the death of either of them, and an account of their martyrdoms would surely be required to keep them on a level with James and especially Stephen. Nor is there any trace of personal description, character study or discussion of motives, though Hellenistic writing is not averse to such matters:


Hermocrates had a daughter named Callirhoe, a marvel of a girl and the idol of all Sicily. In fact her beauty was not so much human as divine…. Now there was a certain handsome young man, Chaereas, surpassing all, like Achilles and Nereus. … Just then Chaereas was walking home from the gymnasium, radiant as a star. The flush of exercise bloomed on his beaming face like gold on silver. As chance would have it, the two walked headlong into each other at the corner of a narrow intersection…                                                                         (Chariton, Callirhoe 1.1)


The editor of the novel remarks, ‘It is tempting to regard the novel less as a love story than as a female character study…. Chaereas is not a satisfactory hero, for in the first half of the work he is culpably intemperate and given to self-pity, while in the second his war exploits are too fantastic and out of character to be other than those of a cardboard Alexander.’ (p. 14)









A large proportion of Acts consists of speeches, principally by Peter and Paul, but on one important occasion by Stephen. Practice in writing speeches was an important part of training in rhetoric, of which history-writing was considered a branch, and Luke excels in it. In accordance with the conventions of Greek historiography, it is through the speeches that we hear the author’s comments and understand how he sees events. Just so, in Callirhoe roughly 40% of the text consists of speeches, and many of the most exciting events are conveyed through speeches rather than by direct narration. It is in these speeches that we may find much of the author’s theology, his views and teaching on Christ, the Christian community and salvation. As a preliminary, therefore, it will be necessary to examine each of the speeches in turn. Part of Luke’s skill is that there is little repetition between the speeches by different people, to different audiences, in different circumstances – and what repetition there is stands out all the more – so that attention to all the speeches is required for a rounded picture of the lessons Luke wishes to convey.


2.14-36, plus 38-39 Peter’s address to the crowd at Pentecost

The most striking feature of this speech is the method: it selects two phenomena, namely the coming of the Spirit and the resurrection of Jesus, and explains their significance as the fulfilment of scripture. To an audience for whom scripture is the divine word this makes a great deal of sense. In fact it is virtually true to say that the quotation from Joel contains the whole theological message of Acts. This is also the method of using scripture now well known from the scripture commentaries of Qumran, though necessarily in reverse: the Qumran scripture commentaries start from the text and apply it to current (or recent) events, whereas Peter takes recent events and explains them as fulfilment of the texts.


For example, the Commentary on Isaiah (4Q161-5), after quoting Is 10.33-34, continues, ‘Its interpretation concerns the Kittim [the Greeks, Alexander the Great and his successors] who shall crush the house of  Israel and humble all the nations’. After quoting Is 11.1-3, ‘Interpreted, this concerns the Branch of David who shall arise at the end of days. God will uphold him with the spirit of might and will give him a throne of glory and a crown of holiness’.


The first phenomenon which Peter takes up is the speaking in tongues. This seems to be understood not as the overflowing of prayerful praise in sounds unintelligible unless an interpreter is present, of which Paul writes to the Corinthians (1 Cor 14), for at Pentecost the disciples speak in ‘other tongues/different languages’ (2.4) which are intelligible to the listeners.


  • Peter sets the whole tone of Acts by explaining this is the expected eschatological outpouring of the Spirit (stressing the fact by prefacing the quotation with ‘In the last days’, not part of the Joel text), thus preparing an eschatological reminder whenever a new outpouring of the Spirit is mentioned, as so frequently, in Acts. The message of Jesus was shot through with awareness that the last times had arrived, the time for the renewal of the world which would usher in the Sovereignty of God. Hence the note of urgency in his proclamation, hence the parables of crisis and the demand for decision. With the Resurrection this note of urgency became even stronger.


  • At the same time the universal dimension of Acts is already introduced. The Joel citation promises the Spirit to all humanity, thus making explicit the implications of the phenomenon of the tongues of fire which has just been described. The appearing of the Spirit in the form of tongues of fire must be an allusion to the giving of the spirit to the 70 elders in Numbers 11.24-25 (representing the 70 nations of the world, according to Rabbi Johanan[20]). This is confirmed by Philo’s statement[21] that the divine voice was visible as fire and became intelligible to the hearers. It can also be understood as the eschatological reversal of the divisive babble of Babel, the re-unification of the whole world, so long divided in incomprehension and enmity. Thus from the first the exclusivity of Judaism is brought to an end, and the stage is set for the inclusion of the gentiles in the people of God, ‘my slaves, men and women’, as Luke adjusts the Joel citation in 2.18. The same point is re-iterated by the quotation of Isaiah 57.19 ‘those who are far away’ in the little supplement to the speech at Ac 2.39.


  • The finale of the Joel citation also introduces that typical Lukan concept of salvation. Surprisingly to the modern ear (for whom ‘Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’ trips glibly off the tongue), in the Old Testament God is the saviour, and the notion of Jesus as saviour is introduced by Luke.

Lk 2.11 ‘Today is born to us a saviour’; Lk 2.30 ‘My eyes have seen my salvation. Swth,r = ‘saviour’ occurs in the other gospels only Jn 4.42, but twice in Lk and twice in Ac, and 10 times in the Pastoral Letters, which come at the end of the development of the New Testament, and evidence a period when Christianity was settling down into the hellenistic world. Swth,rion = ‘salvation’ occurs in the gospels only in Lk, once in Ac and once in Ephesians. Swthri,a = ‘salvation’ occurs in the other gospels only Jn 4.22, but four times in Lk, six times in Ac and five times in the Pastorals.

The interests and preoccupations of Ac often match those of the Pastoral Letters (see especially Paul’s farewell speech in Ac 20), thereby attesting Luke’s involvement in the hellenistic world. In this world there were many cults of oriental Saviour-Gods such as Mithras and Isis, into whose mysteries worshippers could be initiated in the hope of achieving salvation. The characterisation of Jesus as Saviour is a direct challenge to such hellenistic Saviour-Gods and their mystery religions. In the Infancy Narrative of the gospel (Lk 1.47; 2.11) the appellation of Jesus as Saviour is full of hope; in the two speeches in Acts it is full of power (5.31; 13.23).


  • ‘Whoever calls on the name of the Lord’ is the chief designation of Christians in Acts. True, at Antioch the followers of Jesus come to be called ‘Christians’ (Ac 11.26), that is, those who accept and follow the Messiah, sometimes translated ‘Messianists’; but this expression occurs only three times in the New Testament. ‘Those who call on the name of the Lord’ designates the followers of Jesus six times in Acts, and is also a Pauline expression (Rm 10.12-14; 1 Cor 1.2). It means those who put themselves under the patronage of the name of the Lord (Ac 5.41, to suffer for the sake of the name). This is the sense of baptism in (Ac 2.38; 10.48) or into (Ac 8.16; 19.5; Rm 6.3) the name of the Lord. The theology of the holy Name or power of God is an important element especially in Ezekiel 36.20-23. To make his name known is to reveal his power. The personal name of God was so holy and awesome that it might not be pronounced, and its being given due reverence is tantamount to the coming of the Kingdom (‘hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come’). However, now an important referential shift has occurred, in that ‘the name of the Lord’ is now overwhelmingly ‘the name of the Lord Jesus’ (Ac 1.21; 7.59; 8.16; 11.17, 20; 15.11; 16.31; 19.13, 17; 20.35; 21.13; 28.31). The name, patronage and power of the Lord Jesus stand in the place of the name, patronage and power of the Lord God. This is already proclaimed in the emphatic finale of Peter’s speech, that Jesus is the Lord and Christ (Ac 2.36). So, finally, in the climactic finale of Revelation 22.4, in place of believers being sealed and defended by the name of God hwhy written on their foreheads (Ezek 9.4[22]), ‘his name’, the name of God and of the Lamb (a single name), will be written on their foreheads (see p. 42).


The second phenomenon taken up by Peter is the resurrection. A keynote of the speech is the contrast between ‘you killed’ and ‘God raised’ (2.23), fastening the blame on the whole people, not only their leaders, and not – as in later speeches – giving them the excuse of ignorance. The explanation is again given as a fulfilment of scripture, this time using two texts.


  • Firstly, on the assumption that David is the author of the psalms, Peter argues that the promise to David in Psalm 16 LXX[23] that God’s holy one would not see corruption was not fulfilled of David (since clearly David was not spared corruption), and that ‘the holy one’ must be the Christ, his descendant.


  • Secondly, Peter invokes the psalm used most frequently of all to interpret the exaltation of Jesus, perhaps the most important text in showing that the resurrection does not mean simply the Empty Tomb. In different writings of the New Testament this psalm-verse is used differently. In the gospels (Mk 12.35-37) it is used as a conundrum by Jesus, challenging the scriptural experts to explain how David can call his descendant (i.e. his inferior) ‘my Lord’ (i.e. his superior), a challenge pregnant with the implication that the Messiah is more than David’s descendant. It is the text behind Jesus’ ‘blasphemous’ claim at the trial that they will see the son of man seated at the right hand of God (Mk 14.62). It is the psalm which shapes Paul’s formulation of the eschatological exaltation of Christ (1 Cor 15.25), and constitutes the climax of his supremacy in Ephesians 1.20-22 and Colossians 3.1. In the Letter to the Hebrews it is richly and variously used, to show Christ’s superiority to every creature (1.3, 13), his intercession at God’s right hand (8.1), the superiority of his priesthood (10.12-13) and his leadership of his faithful on their pilgrimage (12.2).


Peter’s speech ends, as do so many of the missionary speeches in Acts[24], with an appeal to repentance. This is not merely an appeal to sorrow, still less to morose consideration of sinfulness. In accordance with the Hebrew concept bwv it means a change of life, a total change of direction, the only appropriate response to the eschatological coming of the Sovereignty of God (Mk 1.4, 15). This is especially clear at the end of the next speech (3.26).


3.12-26 Peter’s address to the people in the Portico of Solomon

The speech at Pentecost was, of course, to Jews. But its purpose was to explain the coming of the Spirit. It is a formal appeal to the people of Israel to recognise Jesus. It begins ‘Men of Israel’, appeals to ‘the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’, runs through the stories of Moses, Samuel, the prophets, the covenant, showing that Jesus is the fulfilment of every aspect of the Israelite hope. It was specifically for them in the first place that God raised him up (3.26). This, however, brings its danger, for the speech finally issues in the challenge either to be heirs of the prophets or to be cut off from the people. As in the Pentecost speech, blame is laid firmly on the whole people, not merely the leaders, and sharpened by contrast. In the Pentecost speech the contrast was ‘you killed, but God raised him up’; now the contrast is between death and life, between the people’s choice of a murderer and their rejection of the Holy and Upright One, the leader/initiator (avrchgo.j is a noble word) of life (3.14-15). For an Israelite the contrast could hardly be sharper, for holiness and uprightness[25] are divine qualities, and ‘the Holy and Upright One’ is almost a divine description.


Now, however, a new element is introduced as an encouragement: the excuse of ignorance (3.17). For the reader who knows that this part of the Acts is going to end with Stephen’s summing up and martyrdom, this only intensifies the painful irony. It is also a sad irony that, before any reaction can take place, the officials come bustling up and hustle the speakers off. Only after that are we allowed to know that another couple of thousand joined the believers (4.4).


The speech gives a rich Jewish Christology, centred on Jesus as prophet and pai/j (see p. 40).


  • In the gospel Luke has represented Jesus almost primarily as a prophet. In the programmatic speech at Nazareth Jesus reads from the prophets and then proclaims himself the successor of Elijah and Elisha (Lk 4.26-40). After raising the widow’s son he is acclaimed as a prophet (Lk 7.16). His great journey up to Jerusalem, which dominates the second half of the gospel, is the fulfilment of the saying that no prophet can perish outside Jerusalem (Lk 13.33). His tragic pronouncements over Jerusalem are typical prophetic laments (Lk 13.34; 23.28-30). After the resurrection he is again described as a prophet (Lk 24.19), and the account of the Ascension is modelled on the ascension of the prophet Elijah in fiery chariot and whirlwind (2 Kgs 2.11). It comes as no surprise, then, but rather merely gives a focus, that Jesus is here identified with the ‘prophet like Moses’ whom Moses predicted in Deuteronomy 18.15, 18, the basis of expectation in contemporary Judaism of a prophetic figure who would renew Israel. The Jews were acutely aware of the disappearance of prophecy in the previous centuries, and were eagerly awaiting the eschatological renewal of prophecy. With typical Lukan warmth Peter here encourages his audience to see themselves as part of that renewal, ‘heirs of the prophets’ (3.25), and welcoming the Prophet.


  • Jesus is twice called pai/j (pais, ‘child’, cf. paediatry or child-medicine) in this speech, as nowhere else in the New Testament except in the prayer of the Jerusalem community under persecution (Ac 4.27, 30) and Matthew’s comment, quoting Isaiah, on Jesus’ miracles (Mt 12.18). It is, especially in this speech to the Men of Israel, a crisp technical allusion to what are now called the Servant[26] Songs of Isaiah (Is 42.1-4; 49.1-6; 50.4-9; 52.13-53.12), centred on the envoy of the Lord, whose mission is to bring Israel back to the Lord, to bring the light to the nations and to accomplish this mission even at the price of suffering, insult and death before being raised up by the Lord. Apart from several allusions in 1 Peter 2.23-25, these seem to be the only explicit allusions in the New Testament to the understanding of the Passion of Jesus in terms of the Suffering Servant, although it may well have been in the mind of Jesus himself when he said over the cup, ‘poured out for many’ (Mt 26.28[27]). The authorship of 1 Peter by the apostle Peter is too uncertain to designate the allusions in this speech as Lukan prosopopoeia of Peter, but it is an instance of the speech sharing the particularly Jewish theology of that Letter. It is particularly valuable and forceful in this speech to the Men of Israel and in the intensely biblical prayer of the persecuted community in Ac 4.30.


4.8-12 Peter’s Speech to the leaders of the Jews

This little speech of three sentences intensifies the previous situation, addressed directly to the ‘Rulers of the people and elders’, seeing their stubborn blindness now as a mirror-image of that stubborn blindness which led to their condemnation of Jesus. They recognise the fact of the cure (they can hardly deny it, as the cured man is still standing beside the apostles), the association of the apostles with Jesus and their astonishing outspokenness. Peter repeats directly to them the same contrast between their killing of Jesus and God’s raising him from death as in the previous speech to the people, the same attribution of the cure to the Name of Jesus. A new element is the new proof-text about the corner-stone, also used in the Matthew/Luke addition (Mt 21.42; Lk 20.17) to the Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers. The principal issue is the uncompromising refusal to recognise the truth on the one side, and the uncompromising proclamation of the truth on the other. The unreason and culpability of this stance will be further stressed at the second appearance of the apostles before the Sanhedrin by the intervention of the highly-respected Rabbi Gamaliel[28]


Now (4.13) appears the first full instance (there is a non-controversial use of the word in the Pentecost speech, 2.29) of parrhsi,a, fearless outspokenness, which will become more and more important, the object of the prayer of the persecuted community (4.29) and the result of the new mini-Pentecost which follows (4.31). It is characteristic of the outspokenness of Paul – always to the Jews - in Acts (9.27, 28; 13.46; 14.3; 18.26; 19.8; 26.26; 28.31) and in his own letters (2 Cor 3.12; 7.4; Phil 1.20; Phm 8).


7.2-53 Stephen’s Speech

Luke Timothy Johnson exaggerates not unreasonably when he writes that the speech is ‘the key Luke provides his readers for the interpretation of his entire two-volume narrative’ (Acts, p. 119). It sums up Luke’s treatment of the Jews, but hardly covers his attitude to the gentiles. There is considerable dislocation between Stephen’s trial and his speech, for Luke is doing two different things.


In presenting Stephen’s trial Luke is preparing the ground for his speech by presenting it, mutatis mutandis, as a mirror of Jesus’ trial (see footnote 5). Stephen has already been shown to be a prophetic figure: like the other members of the Seven, he was filled with the Spirit and with wisdom (6.3). Like Jesus, he was filled with grace and power and began to work miracles and great signs among the people (6.8). When he begins his speech, however adverse their reaction is to be, the onlookers are forced to recognise his face as the face of an angel (6.15). Since in his speech he makes no attempt whatsoever to rebutt the charges made against him, we can only conclude that this presentation is angled to lend authority to the speech itself.


In accordance with the conventions of history-writing, ancient and modern, the speaker conveys his lesson by a re-telling of the history of the people, selected and designed to bring out the important points. This was the practice of speeches in ancient Greek historians, in Josephus (giving his own version at length [five columns in Whiston’s translation], shouting up at the walls of Jerusalem and under fire (!), in The Jewish War 5.376-419), in the first-century Damascus Document (CD 7.10-8.10) and the Book of Jubilees (in which the early part of the Bible is re-cast to fit into the author’s chronological schema; it used to be called The Little Genesis).  Stephen’s version may be divided into three sections:


  • 7.2-16 From Abraham to Jacob. The stress is on the action of God, directing all the history of his people. Stephen is careful initially to involve his hearers: ‘My brothers, my fathers’, ‘our ancestors’ (three times), an element of the classic rhetorical opening, captatio benevolentiae, which makes the hearers feel comfortable. Yet two important hints are dropped, to be picked up later: Abraham was not given any property (à nor will a built Temple be advantageous). Joseph made himself known only at the second visit of his brothers (à there will be two stages of both Moses’ and Jesus’ mission).


  • 7.17-43 Moses. Moses is a figure of Jesus, already in his youth ‘mighty in words and in action’ (the same expressions here of Moses and of Jesus in Lk 24.19). He was rejected by his own people; ‘he thought his brothers would realise that through him God would liberate them but they did not’ (7.25 – not drawn from the Exodus account, but a comment by Luke, vital to the argument). He went away, but was sent a second time. At this stage (7.35-39) Luke has reached his climax and breaks into real rhetoric with a fivefold ‘this is the one who…’ 

1.      was sent as leader and redeemer.

2.      worked miracles and signs.

3.      was a prophet and foretold a prophet to come.

4.      was entrusted with words of life.

5.      was rejected a second time.

In all these ways he showed himself a type of Jesus, and the rejection of Moses by the people of Israel is seen as a type of the rejection of Jesus by his own people. This is the heart of the speech, and indeed the whole lesson of the chapters leading up to this moment. Just like Moses, Jesus was rejected in his ministry; a second chance was given by his coming again in the Spirit in the form of the parallel ministry of the apostles. Stephen’s fate is already sealed, but he has one more element to add.


  • 7.44-53 Erroneous worship in the Temple. Just as the worship in the desert went wrong, so that God abandoned them to the worship of idols, resulting (eventually – there is a fair overlap of time here) in the Babylonian exile, so the people abandoned the designs for worship which had been entrusted to Moses for the Tent of Meeting, and built the Temple against the wishes of the Lord. (David is excused, and all the blame given to Solomon, 7.45-46). It is erroneous to worship God in a ‘house that human hands have built’ – and here Luke uses a really poisonous word, ceiropoi,htoj, rendered odious by its constant use for the blasphemous idols of Babylon. The lesson of this final section is that worship is no longer to be tied to Jerusalem and its Temple, but may spread to the gentiles. The furious reaction of the listeners is hardly surprising.


10.34-43 Peter’s address in the house of Cornelius

Peter’s brief catechesis of Cornelius and his household, once Cornelius has confirmed to Peter that the Spirit is at work by recounting his vision, is marked by three features, one negative and two positive. Negatively, there is of course no argument from scripture and hardly an allusion to scripture; they would cut little ice with gentiles. Positively:


  • It is the first time Peter (or anyone else) tells the gospel story in any detail. Despite Peter’s complimentary, ‘You know what happened all over Judaea’ (10.37), it was reasonable to fill them in on the details. These details correspond in a fascinating way to Luke’s own version of the gospel: the account starts with anointing by the Spirit (and in Luke’s gospel Jesus’ ministry begins not with the Baptism, but with the Descent of the Spirit on the occasion of the baptism, a subtle but important difference). Deliverance from the power of the devil is also an important dimension in the gospel. Finally, the insistence that ‘we have eaten and drunk with him’ after the resurrection mirrors the uniquely Lukan incident of eating a piece of fish (Lk 24.42). Luke is attached to the physical; he alone insists that the Spirit descended like a dove ‘in bodily form’ (Lk 3.22). In the hellenistic world it was important to emphasize that an occurrence was not merely spiritual.


  • The stress on ‘all’. Since Peter is reflecting on the fact that God has no favourites, it is not surprising to find this emphasized by ‘all nations’ (v. 35), Jesus as ‘judge of all’ (v. 36) and ‘judge of the living and the dead’ (v. 42), ‘all those in the power of the devil’ (v. 38), ‘all who believe’ (v. 43). The double stress on Jesus as judge is, in Acts, unique to this speech.


13.17-41 Paul’s preaching to the Jews

This speech is again thoroughly Jewish and clearly directed towards Jews, with constant stress on Israel, our nation, our ancestors, though the God-fearers are also included, as is appropriate in a speech made in a synagogue of the Diaspora. There are also traces of the formal plan of a type of synagogue-sermon called a Proem-Sermon[29]. Such a sermon builds on the readings from the Law and the Prophets, which had just been read (Ac 13.15), though without quoting them directly, but rather quoting a third text as starting-point. In this case the seder-reading from the Law would be Deut 4.25-46, the haftarah-reading from the Prophets would be 1 Sm 7.6-16 (the promises to David) and the proem-text 1 Sm 13.14 (explicit in Ac 13.22). Luke, however, is obviously also aware that this is not the first scripture-based sermon which his readers have encountered; he covers the whole history of Israel not in a single speech but moment by moment. The patriarchs were prominent in Peter’s speech (3.12-26), Moses in Stephen’s (7.2-53); it is now David’s turn, though the incorruption-argument has already occurred in the Pentecost speech.


At the same time, with a masterly piece of prosopopoiea, Luke has accommodated the speech to the speaker. In connection with the resurrection Jesus is given the title ‘God’s son’ so characteristic of Paul’s theology (13.33, cf. Rm 1.3-4, ‘constituted son of God in power at the resurrection’; Ga 1.16; 2.20; 4.4, 6); this title of Jesus occurs only once else in Acts (9.20), again as part of Paul’s preaching. The speech also builds up to the typically Pauline thought that the Law cannot justify and that justification is by faith (13.38-39).


15.1-29 The Council of Jerusalem

This Council is in many ways the turning-point of Acts. As a formal meeting of ‘the church, the apostles and elders’ to consult with delegates of the community at Antioch, the first international meeting in the history of the Church, it is obviously a key moment. Added to this, it is the final appearance of Peter, who thenceforth is no more mentioned in Acts, and it issues in the only formal instructions given in Acts, ‘It has been decided by the Holy Spirit and by us…’. After this the focus shifts onto Paul’s mission, though Paul’s continued careful reference to the community at Jerusalem, and his return there, shows that Jerusalem is still the centre of unity. Why does Luke give the scene such prominence? For him it is the final confirmation of the legitimacy of the entry of the gentiles into the heritage of Israel, to have a share in their inheritance. The burden of both speeches is the same, that the gentiles are to be considered on a par with Israel in the matter of faith (15.8, 14). Luke is careful to stress that the gentiles do not replace Israel, but join Israel in its inheritance. Peter, as the witness of the historical fact, stresses the phenomenological aspect: it has been proved by the descent of the Holy Spirit on them in just the same way as the descent at Pentecost on the apostles. James, as the representative of Jewish tradition, stresses the prophetic aspect: this is the fulfilment of prophecy. The scene is of wider significance even than the immediate problem, for it has become the model and exemplar for all far-reaching decision-making in the Church, combining human and divine: human discussion and human wisdom under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit enable the participants to reach the decision.


Yet historically the scene bristles with difficulties. Paul gives an account of a meeting at Jerusalem with ‘the recognised leaders’ at which the legitimacy of the gentile mission was decided. However, in his account the main issue was the division of spheres of influence in the partnership between himself and Peter. No conditions were imposed on the gentiles, and he was simply asked to help the poor at Jerusalem (Ga 2.7-11). Subsequently Peter came to Antioch and the peace of the mixed community there was shattered by delegates from Jerusalem who reneged on the agreement made at that meeting. According to Acts, however, the question arose at Antioch before (not after) the meeting at Jerusalem; the meeting at Jerusalem did not touch the issue of spheres of influence, and conditions were imposed.


It is arguable that ‘both sources are partial and tendentious’ (Johnson 1992, p. 270). If preference is given to Paul as an eye-witness and major actor in the scene, it would be reasonable to hold that Luke knew that the question had been raised at Antioch and that a positive decision about the inclusion of the gentiles given at Jerusalem, but did not know in which order these occurred. In his function as a hellenistic historian Luke constructed the two speeches[30] on the assumption that question came before answer. The speeches are, after all, what should have been said to facilitate the religious and social symbiosis which Luke knew and wished to promote. Knowing the difficulties which arose about Jewish and gentile Christians living together, he added the formal letter which settled the dispute. This letter (15.23-29) is itself a puzzle. It is addressed to the gentile Christians in a narrowly-defined corner of the mediterranean (Antioch, Syria and Cilicia, the north-east corner), and Paul shows no knowledge of it when writing about the same problems, the burden of the Law (the subject of dispute in Galatia) and food sacrificed to idols (a crisis of conscience both at Corinth and at Rome). The very particular address suggests that it was not invented by Luke, for it is too narrow to serve his purpose well, and that he had some documentary source. Perhaps it was written only after Paul’s missionary work, and in answer to queries from this particular area; certainly Paul cannot have known it. On the other hand, if Paul’s story, and particularly his chronological order, are correct, the meeting at Jerusalem merely confirmed the legitimacy of accepting gentiles into the faith, without considering the consequent problems of symbiosis. These problems surfaced later, and seemingly unexpectedly, in the dispute at Antioch.


Despite his views on the superfluity of observing the Law, according to Ac 16.3, Paul went so far as to have the half-Jewish Timothy circumcised, to avoid upsetting the Jews. It seems, in fact, that in the early centuries of Christianity a compromise was reached between Jews and gentiles in the Church. Circumcision was not demanded of gentile converts, but C.K. Barrett[31] lists evidence that the decree of Acts 15 was widely observed: in the Churches of the Book of Revelation (Rv 2.14, 20), by the Martyrs of Lyons in the late 2nd century, who refuse to eat blood (Eusebius, Hist.Eccl., 5.1.26), by the Synod of Gangra, c.300 (Canon 2) and by Pacian of Barcelona, c. 397.


17.22-31 Paul’s speech on the Areopagus

This speech is a scintillating climax to a scintillating scene, in which Luke uses all his wit to make this important first encounter between Christianity and pagan philosophy entertaining as well as emblematic. Athens was no longer the mistress of the world, but it was still the capital and goal of philosophers. At the same time it could be mocked (as we have seen, on p. 8, it was by Chariton) as a centre for the inquisitive, the talkative and those fond of litigation. Paul makes use of this for his preaching, and Luke makes use of it for his irony. In their arrogance the Athenians mock Paul as spermolo,goj (17.18), the image of a bird picking up seeds at random[32], when the reader knows that Paul is being duly selective in his confrontation with pagan philosophy, building on what ideas are acceptable.


To begin with, Paul in fact acts like the greatest of their own Athenian philosophers, Socrates, debating in the market-place (17.17, as Socrates in Plato’s Apology and Xenophon’s Memorabilia 1.1.10). Socrates was also criticised, and eventually condemned, for introducing new gods (Xenophon, Memorabilia 1.1.1, cf. Ac 17.23)[33]. Their courtesy is elaborate: they invite him to address them, desperate to learn from him (17.19) – on which Luke has his own satirical comment. Then Paul replies, politely taking as his starting-point what he has seen of their own altar ‘To an Unknown God’[34] (but he will end up by taking up this ‘unknown’ to say that they really are ignorant, 17.30) and offering to help. He calls them deisidai,monej, which can mean either politely ‘god-fearing’ or mockingly ‘superstitious’. He points out that God does not live in a Temple, when Athens was full of Temples. He teaches that all people are of one stock, when the Athenians thought themselves superior to anyone else. He claims that God is not distant from any person, when the Epicureans held that the gods are distant and uncaring. The debate folds up when they burst out laughing at the idea of resurrection (17.32), with the implication that VAna,stasij (=Resurrection) is the name of some outlandish new goddess. Did they not know the punch-line of Aeschylus’ Eumenides (one of his greatest tragedies, played a few yards from the Areopagus) 648, a,`pax qa,nontoj ouv,tij evst v avna,stasij, ‘Of a man once dead there is no resurrection’? The whole scene is a tissue of irony on the Athenians.


Beneath the irony, however, there is both literary quality and serious argument. The literary quality is given by the plentiful use of the optative (Luke alone of NT authors has sufficiently sophisticated Greek to use the optative, twice in 17.27), alliteration[35], assonance[36] and paronomasia[37]. The two schools with which Luke chooses to take issue are the Epicureans and Stoics.


  • Epicureans (not mere gourmets, as the modern connotation of the word would suggest) in ethics held to the pleasure principle in somewhat the same way as John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarianism. In theology their position was not far from the eighteenth-century Deists, who held that God set the world going but then interfered no further (the ‘clock-maker’ position). A fascinating foresight, brilliantly expounded by Lucretius, De Rerum Natura Book I, was a philosophers’ version of atomic theory. It is perhaps against the view of the non-interference of the gods that Paul insists that God not only created the cosmos but arranged zones, times and seasons, and has set a day for judgement of human action (17.26, 31).  


  • Stoicism was the basis of much current popular philosophy, but perhaps its best-known exponent was the emperor-philosopher Marcus Aurelius, whose Meditations are still available in an Everyman edition. There was much that was noble in Stoicism, including the pantheistic idea that there is a divine spark in everything, and hence the equal value of every person. Their deity was, however, strictly impersonal (whence ‘the deity’ in 17.29 should perhaps be translated ‘the divine principle’; to. qei/on is neuter). From them Luke takes his two quotations in 17.28, ‘in him we live and move and exist’ (perhaps from Poseidonius or from the Cretan Epimenides) and ‘we are all his children’ (from Aratus). It could well be said that they were ‘groping their way towards’ a Hebraeo-Christian view of God (17.27). It is only when Paul leaves the field of natural philosophy to plunge into the specifically Christian claim of resurrection that he loses his audience.


Even in this speech Luke manages to achieve his characteristic prosopopoeia by putting things in a specifically Pauline way. In Rm 1.19 Paul claims that the human mind can deduce the existence and power of God from the creation of the cosmos (as Ac 17.27). In Rm 3.26 he writes of the divine forbearance in withholding judgement for sin (as Ac 17.30).


20.18-25 Paul’s Farewell Speech at Miletus

With good reason it has been claimed that this speech is the most significant piece in this part of Acts[38]. Ephesus, the most important city of the eastern mediterranean after Alexandria and Antioch, dominates this section of the Acts, with Paul’s three-year stay there[39]. This is Paul’s last speech as a free man, and his only speech to Christians. Furthermore, it provides a splendid self-portrait of Paul, reminding the reader, by its use of the Hellenistic convention of a farewell speech, of Jesus’ own farewell speech at the Last Supper, and again showing Paul as a prophet. The speech is shot through with characteristically Pauline sentiments and expressions, serving the Lord in humility and trials and persecutions, the Church of God, bought with the blood of his son, build up an inheritance through toil (see marginal references in any good Bible). But more characteristic than mere words are the thoughts: Paul’s athletic metaphor of finishing the race, his care for his churches and especially the weak, and his insistence that he has supported himself by his own work.


The speech falls into three major sections:


  • 20.18-27 Paul’s personal history: the frame of vv. 18-21 and 26-27 form an apologia for his past record, the kernel of vv. 22-25 foretells his future. It has been suggested that Paul was roundly accused of embezzlement and misappropriation of the funds collected for Jerusalem. This would explain Paul’s self-defence in 2 Cor 8.20-21. There is, however, no need to postulate such accusations, for the apologia for past conduct is both a biblical (e.g. Joshua 23) and a Greek convention (Socrates’ Apologia in Plato).


  • 20.28-31a Warnings of future disturbance. Such warnings are given also in the eschatological discourse of the synoptic gospels (Mk 13; Mt 24). It is notable that Luke, in his passage parallel to Mark 13, omits any parallel to Mk 13.20-23, material which he uses here; this may be a deliberate transfer. Especially striking is ‘Be on your guard!’, the same word grhgorei/te which is stressed three times in the conclusion of the Markan discourse (Mk 13.33-37). The most notable parallels, however, are to the deutero-pauline Pastoral Letters, the warnings of heresy within and outside, as 1 Tm 1.3 (particularly at Ephesus); 3.1; 6.3-5, 20. Resistance to false ideas is there also entrusted to the elders (1 Tm 5.19-20; 2 Tm 2.2), such as those to whom Paul is now speaking. The whole speech breathes the atmosphere of caution and warning so characteristic of the late writings of the New Testament, when deviation was becoming a danger. In a way it prepares the transition from the generation of the apostles to the post-apostolic world. 1 Peter 5.8 speaks of a prowling lion, Paul here of fierce wolves (v. 29).


  • 20.31b-35 Final commendation. Paul reinforces his argument by a saying of the Lord Jesus, as in 1 Cor 9.14, a saying which is not found in the gospels. Scholars dispute whether it is a genuine saying or not, for it has many parallels in hellenistic moral teaching.


Paul’s Defence Speeches

Paul is now on his way to Rome, and seemingly martyrdom. Such is the import of his valedictory address to the elders at Miletus. Such is again the meaning of the prophetic action of Agabus in tying his own feet and hands with Paul’s belt (21.10-13). The single-mindedness of this purpose may be the reason for Luke’s strange almost complete silence about the delivery of the Collection in Jerusalem[40]. When the confrontation begins, Paul is obliged to defend himself repeatedly:


22.1-21            To the Jewish crowd in the Temple

23.1, 6             Before the Sanhedrin

24.10-21          Before Felix the governor

26.2-29            Before the governor Festus and King Agrippa.


About the basic historicity of the scenes it is difficult to pronounce. Of course the speeches themselves were composed by Luke; the question is whether all these hearings took place. Court scenes were obviously as popular among the ancients as are American court-room drama movies today; the central portion of Callirhoe presents a tedious series of trials before the King of Babylon. Although Luke is far too subtle and artistic a rhetorician to allow any dull repetition, the basic message is always the same: Paul is the true representative of Judaism, and the Jews are too stubborn to recognise this. Two features mark each speech. The ‘God of our ancestors’ is the object of all his attention, and in each defence he proclaims the resurrection more vigorously.


  • To the Jewish crowd this is stressed by Paul’s claim to an origin and education of la crème de la crème in Judaism (22.3). The exact significance of ‘brought up here in this city’ (22.3) has often been discussed. Does the word indicate primary or secondary education?. Was Paul’s basic cast of mind Hebrew or Greek? The reader of his letters can be left in no doubt that his basic cast of mind was semitic, for, despite using the Greek translation of the Bible, his methods of argumentation and his wicked skill in turning  rabbinic arguments on their head for his own purposes demonstrate a high level of technical skill and an easy familiarity with semitic language and thought-patterns[41]. The description of the scene stresses more than the original story the devotion to ‘the God of our ancestors’ on the part of both Paul and Ananias, at the same time underlining twice (22.15, 21) that Paul’s mission is to the gentiles.


  • To the Sanhedrin also Paul shoots from the hip, ‘I am a Pharisee and the son of Pharisees’. The scene is enlivened by Paul’s neat ploy of setting one group against the other, but the underlying seriousness is that Paul is more faithful than his opponents. In any case, by the time Luke wrote, the Sadducees had ceased to exist in the Fall of Jerusalem, and Pharisaism was the sole representative of true Judaism. The whole meeting is occasioned by the tribune’s desire for a fair hearing[42]. When the high priest breaks all the rules by striking the prisoner, Paul recalls him to his duty by the Law. When his own misdemeanour is pointed out he apologises with a quotation from the Law. His sole defence is that he adheres to the central tenet of Judaism, final resurrection. Even his opponents entertain the possibility that he is divinely inspired (23.9).


  • The hearing before Felix the irony takes a new rhetorical turn. Tertullus, the professional orator hired for the occasion, gives a smooth and fawning captatio benevolentiae, praising the governor’s ‘unbroken peace’, ‘reforms’ and ‘foresight’, when every listener knew that it was during his governorship that the discontent which would lead to the Jewish Revolt really took hold. Tacitus would  sound a different note, remarking sarcastically that Felix ius regum servili exercuit ingenio, ‘with the mind of a slave he wielded the power of a king’ (Histories 5.9). Tertullus is represented – and Luke was trained in such exercises - as clever enough to avoid theology in the Roman governor’s court. He prefers the criminal  charges of disturbing the peace ‘all over the world’ and profaning the Temple protected and guarded by Roman arms. After denial of these charges, Paul, even more clearly than before, takes his stand on the resurrection, putting it so centrally that the Way cannot be seen as a sect (literally a ai`,resij, a matter of choice, 24.12). At the same time it is the focus of Jewish hope and the reason why he stands before them.


  • The last grand court scene, now graced by royalty, has almost the air of the finale of a grand opera. Festus realises the urgency of the case, and gives it top priority (‘three days after his arrival in the province’, 25.1; ‘the next day’, 25.6; ‘a few days later’, 25.13). The whole of the Roman power is summoned to ensure that Paul receives a full and fair hearing, and by it is declared innocent. The whole defence is directed towards the resurrection, ‘the promise made by God to our ancestors’, ‘nothing more than what the prophets and Moses himself said would happen’. Later, Agrippa and his sister Bernice[43] arrive with great pomp and panoply. Festus’ presentation to them is in best classical Greek (two optatives in v. 16!). He puts forward the excuse that a further hearing and their advice may give him something to say in his covering letter to the emperor. In fact the scene serves four purposes:


·        It fulfills the prophecy that the disciples will have to make their defence ‘before governors and kings’

·        It increases the parallel between Paul, who appears before Felix and Agrippa,  and Jesus, who appeared before Pilate and Herod.

·        It gives the opportunity for yet another of the trial scenes so beloved of a Hellenistic audience (as in Callirhoe).

·        It contributes to Luke’s apologia: irrationally hostile though the Jews may be, a properly hellenised Jew will join the Roman in declaring Paul innocent, and so Christianity inoffensive.


Paul’s defence is again a masterpiece, firstly for its hellenistic eloquence. He begins with a nice piece of flattery for the king (26.2-3), and maintains this courtesy right to the end (26.29), neatly picking up Agrippa’s sarcastic jibe[44] and turning it into a prayer for him. He puts a classical quip – the proverb about ‘kicking aginst the pricks’ occurs frequently in classical literature - even into the mouth of Jesus (26.14). The rhetoric is firm and not exaggerated (the triple purpose of 26.18: ‘to open their eyes, to turn them from darkness to light, to grant them forgiveness of sin’). He uses the most delicate understatement (‘not disobedient’, 26.19; ‘ none of this escapes your notice’, ‘not done in a corner’, 26.26). It is a masterpiece secondly for the adjustments of the story suitable to the occasion: Paul’s devotion to Judaism is stressed by the ferocity of his persecuting zeal. Ananias and the Temple-scene which occurred in the two previous accounts would no longer have any purpose and are dropped in order to strengthen the directness of the commission. The brightness of the light is stressed by the occurrence of the scene in the sunlight of ‘the middle of the day’ (26.13) and the awesomeness by the fact that they all fell down. Thirdly the speech is a masterpiece theologically by its focus again on those two central points: the resurrection (the moment at which Festus breaks off the speech with his guffaw) and the fulfilment of prophecy (the challenge which Paul throws at Agrippa, 26.27, only for him cynically to sidestep it). It is a fitting conclusion to Paul’s speeches and to the formal speeches of Acts.








In developed Christian theology the Holy Spirit is divine, the third Person of the Trinity, who proceeds from the Father and the Son (or from the Father through the Son). Since it is far from clear that Luke thought of the Spirit in such explicit terms, it will be well briefly to sketch a theology of the Spirit of God in the Old Testament and in those parts of the New Testament which preceed Luke.


The Spirit in the Old Testament

In the most ancient parts of the Old Testament the spirit of God is conceived as a force which seizes on a person, giving wisdom, strength and authority. It falls on the elders in the desert wanderings to help Moses judge and guide the people (Num 11.17, 25). It seizes upon the Judges to give them military leadership (Jg 3.10; 6.34; 11.29) and upon Saul also in the same way (1 Sm 11.6). It fills the prophets so that they may deliver God’s message (Mi 3.8; Zc 7.12; Ezek 2.2; 3.12, 14, 24), whereas false prophets have a lying spirit (1 Kings 22.21-23). On a different level, the spirit of God is also responsible for all life on earth: at the creation the spirit of God hovered over the waters (Gn 1.2), and human life depends on the imparting and withdrawal of God’s spirit (Ps 104.29-30: ‘You send out your spirit and life begins; you renew the face of the earth’).


When the messianic hope begins to be expressed, the spirit of Yahweh is promised to rest on the Messiah.


On him will rest the spirit of Yahweh,

the spirit of wisdom and insight,

the spirit of counsel and power,

the spirit of knowledge and fear of Yahweh (Is 11.2).


This presence of the spirit on Yahweh’s chosen one is re-iterated in key passages of all three sections of Isaiah (42.1; 61.1). In the dark days of the Babylonian Exile this is generalised, and the giving of the spirit to the whole people becomes the sign of the messianic renewal of the last times. Ezekiel, in the vision of the dry bones, sees the people brought to life again by the spirit or breath (the same Hebrew word means both ‘breath’ and ‘spirit’) of Yahweh (Ezek 37.1-14). Joel, as we have seen in the discussion of Pentecost, celebrates the same coming of the spirit as the eschatological event.


The Spirit in Paul

Paul’s letters are, of course, the earliest documents of the New Testament, although the oral tradition behind the gospel goes back further still. It is, however, Paul who gives us our earliest view of Christian teaching on the Spirit. Practically-minded as he is, Paul views the Spirit primarily through its effects. Firstly, the Spirit, dwelling in the Christian, enables the Christian to call God intimately ‘Abba, Father’ and to pray in a spirit of confident sonship, knowing that the Spirit is at prayer within, praying the prayer which cannot be put into words: ‘You received the Spirit of adoption, enabling us to cry out, “Abba, Father”. The Spirit himself joins our spirit to bear witness that we are children of God’ (Rm 8.15-16). Secondly, the Spirit empowers Christians to action. This may be in extraordinary activities such as miracles (Ga 3.1-3), healing, prophecy, speaking in tongues (1 Cor 12.4-30), or in more humdrum – though no less extraordinary – ways such as ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control’ (Ga 5.22; 1 Cor 13). ‘The Spirit is for Paul an “energizer”, a Spirit of power’, writes Joseph Fitzmyer[45].


The basic fact is that the only way Paul can explain the way believers live, living not by their natural inclinations, literally, not ‘according to the flesh’, is that the Spirit of God or the Spirit of Christ has made a home in them (Rm 9.9-10). In his letters Paul gives us glimpses of some of his communities. For instance in the outburst in Galatians, when he challenges the Galatians to explain by the Law the phenomena which he attributes to the presence of the Spirit of the Risen Christ (Ga 3.1-3). These are real, palpable facts for which Paul demands an explanation. The only fairly full and explicit portrait of a community, however, is provided by First Corinthians, which shows a community running – a little uncertainly and with plenty of massive human failings – on the Spirit, permeated and inspired by the Spirit. There is in evidence no human authority or guidance, and certainly no external containment by the Law, but only the internal compulsion and inspiration of the Spirit. The Spirit is the motivating force and the rudder of guidance.


Reflection and analysis of who and what this Spirit is has, by this stage of Paul, not yet progressed too far. The Spirit is both the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ, imparting the life of Christ. The distinction and the relationship between Christ and the Spirit has not yet been clarified. At times it seems that the Spirit is to be identified with the Risen Christ. By his resurrection Christ was ‘constituted Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness’ (Rm 1.4), and has become ‘a life-giving Spirit’ (1 Cor 15.45). The veil obscuring the truth ‘will not be taken away until they turn to the Lord. Now this Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom’ (2 Cor 3.17-18). In the midst of a passage about living in Christ (‘Christ will be glorifed in my body… Life to me, of course, is Christ’, Phil 1.20-21) Paul writes also of the support of the Spirit of Christ. God gives us all ‘a sure place in Christ, giving us as pledge the Spirit in our hearts’ (2 Cor 1.21-22; also Gal 4.4). Yet it is also ‘the Spirit of God, the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead’ (Rm 8.9, 11). In short, the Spirit enables the believer to live in Christ, and imparts the divine power of the Risen Christ to act according to the Spirit of God.


The Spirit in the gospel of Luke

From his accent in the gospel on the Spirit it is clear that Luke is familiar with the Pauline communities where the Spirit is so active. It is as though in Acts Luke works back from there, seeing the story of the earliest Church in the light of the activity of the Spirit which he knows from his own experience; and then in the gospel, further back still, the Spirit was at work also in the history of Jesus. So from the Acts it will be clear that the Spirit was active in the communities of believers from the very beginning; they were communities of the Spirit. In the gospel, similarly, Luke wishes to show that from the very beginning of the Good News, the preparation for the birth of John the Baptist and of Jesus in the Infancy Narratives, the Spirit has been at work. Two interlinked features of Luke’s gospel are striking, the importance of the Spirit and the consequent accent on prophecy. Prophecy had always been an evidence of the Spirit of God, and from the start of the gospel it is a feature which shows the Spirit at work. This puts the whole unrolling of the drama under the sign of the Spirit which inspired the scripture and the prophets.


The first is striking especially in the Infancy Narratives, where Luke is composing freely himself, having no model on which to work, and in the accounts of the Baptism and the scene in the Synagogue at Nazareth, in both of which he moulds his material freely. The Infancy Narratives form in a way the conclusion of the Old Testament, and are almost still part of it. The characters are thoroughly biblical , marked by an Old Testament piety, centred on the Temple and the Law. They are of that class specially favoured in post-Exilic times, the Poor of Yahweh. The two Annunciation scenes, to Zechariah and to Mary, are modelled on the annunciations to Gideon’s and to Samuel’s mothers respectively. The style, with its careful parallelism and many of the exact phrases, is modelled on that of the Septuagint. Especially the Canticles (the Benedictus, the Magnificat and the Nunc Dimittis) could well be taken for biblical psalms; the Magnificat is especially close to Hanna’s thanksgiving for the birth of Samuel (1 Sm 2). The purpose of this is theodicy, to show, despite Israel’s massive refusal to accept the promised Messiah, that God has fulfilled his promises, and that the faithful of Israel have responded and welcomed the Messiah.


At the same time, however, the Infancy Narratives are wholly coloured by the presence of the Spirit. The Spirit is mentioned nine times. Zechariah and Elizabeth are filled with the Spirit. The Spirit will come upon Mary for the birth of her child. Simeon, on whom already the Holy Spirit rests, is led into the Temple by the Spirit. The atmosphere is also heavy with prophecy. Each of the three Canticles mentioned is prophetic, both in tone and in content, and Elizabeth’s little greeting to Mary is similarly prophetic. They set the scene for the rest of the gospel.


Luke has transformed the incident of the Baptism to make it not a baptism-scene but the descent of the Spirit on the occasion of the baptism. John the Baptist has been airbrushed out by means of the report of his arrest just before the baptism. Hence it is not at all clear from Luke who baptised Jesus. The baptism is merely the time-marker for the descent of the Spirit ‘in bodily form’ as Luke insists. Afterwards it is no surprise that Jesus goes into the desert ‘full of the Holy Spirit’, making a somewhat superfluous double mention of the Spirit in one line.


Similarly for the opening proclamation in the synagogue at Nazareth Luke takes the Markan scene of the expulsion of Jesus from Nazareth, brings it forward in time (Mk 6.1-6 becomes Lk 4.14-30), and expands it by a typically Lukan speech, which has been characterized as ‘The Nazareth Manifesto’. Again Jesus, ‘with the power of the Spirit in him’ reads the prophetic text from Isaiah, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me’, and proceeds to explain that the text is even now being fulfilled. In what way? He will be a prophet like Elijah and Elisha, mirroring their mission to gentiles. Thereafter in the gospel, as Luke is principally following the narrative of Mark, the mention of the Spirit is less frequent, though not entirely absent (10.21; 11.13; 12.10, 12). Jesus, however, continues to act, and to be greeted as a prophet (see p, 11, 22). He is greeted as a prophet when he raises the Widow’s Son. He goes up to Jerusalem as a prophet, to die a prophet’s death. He proclaims in the Temple like any prophet, and weeps over Jerusalem and its inhabitants for its impending doom. Finally he is taken up into heaven like the prophet Elijah.


More than this, the reader is constantly made aware that events are taking the course which was foretold in scripture: it could not have been otherwise. This is the meaning of the constant ‘I must’ or ‘it is necessary for me’: to be in my Father’s house (Lk 2.49), to proclaim the gospel (4.43), to suffer much (9.22; 17.25), to go on for two days more (13.33, cf. Hosea 6.2), to lodge in Zacchaeus’ house (19.5), to fulfill the prophecies (22.37; 24.7, 26, 44). Similarly the frequent use of the verb me,llw (=is destined) underlines the inevitability of what is to happen: Who taught you to flee from the destined wrath? (3.7); the passing he was destined to accomplish in Jerusalem (9.31) and similar statements (9.44; 10.1; 19.4, 11; 21.7, 36). In what sense these events are inevitable and destined is finally made clear on the Road to Emmaus, when the Stranger explains everything which was destined to happen in fulfilment of the prophecies in scripture (24.21).


The reader is also constantly being reminded of the fulfilment of prophecy by the fulfilment of prophecies internally to the narrative: a prophecy is made and then fulfilled later in the gospel or in the Acts. The prophecies to Zechariah and to Mary about the birth of their sons are quickly fulfilled, and the prophecies about their destinies are fulfilled gradually throughout the gospel. Simeon’s prophecy, too, about the rejection of Jesus by his own people, is fulfilled only too painfully. There follow the prophecies of Jesus in the synagogue about his mission to gentiles, fulfilled by the stress in this gospel on the invitations to the Samaritans and gentiles. The persecutions of the Acts are foretold (21.12): ‘You will be handed over to the synagogues (Acts 4 and 5) and to imprisonment (the apostles, then Paul, frequently) and brought before kings (Agrippa) and governors (Felix and Festus) for the sake of my name – and that will be your opportunity to bear witness.’ The fulfilment of the prophecies of Jesus about the doom impending on Jerusalem would have been only too obvious to his first readers or hearers. The sense and meaning of all this is summed up in Stephen’s speech, in which he interprets the double rejection of Jesus the prophet as a repetition of the double rejection by Israel of Moses the prophet.


The Spirit in Acts

It has rightly been said that the Spirit dominates the Acts. Jesus’ last words before his parting from his disciples are the promise of the Spirit to give them power for their apostolic work, and the instructions to return to Jerusalem to wait for the advent of the Spirit. The action begins only when the Spirit bursts upon them at Pentecost. Peter is filled with the Holy Spirit to begin his speech to the Sanhedrin (4.8). The community is filled with the Holy Spirit – as sort of mini-Pentecost as the house rocks – to continue their witness under persecution (4.31). The summaries of life in this first, ideal community of Jerusalem do not mention the Spirit (2.42-47; 4.32-35; 5.12-16), but they come immediately after the Pentecost and the repetition of the phenomena, and so the prayer, the harmony, the witness, the generosity and the awe in which they were held may be seen as the working out of the effects of the Spirit


And so it continues, with Stephen (6.5; 7.55), the Samaritans (8.17), Barnabas (11.24), Paul (11.29) all ‘filled with the Spirit’. The Spirit directs the action: of Philip to and away from the Ethiopian (8.29, 39), to alert Peter to Cornelius’ messengers (10.19), to forestall and direct Peter’s action in baptising Cornelius (10.44), to confirm the crucial decision about fellowship with the gentiles (15.28), to check Paul from preaching in Asia and Bithynia, and then leading him into Europe (16.6-9), ‘binding’ Paul to lead him to Jerusalem and captivity (20.22). Every significant move in the progress of the gospel is explicitly occasioned by the guidance of the Spirit[46].


The Shipwreck and Paul the prophet

The portrayal of Paul as prophet reaches its climax in the narrative of the journey to Rome and the shipwreck. Just as the latter part of the gospel is dominated by the great journey of Jesus to his death at Jerusalem, so the final chapters of Acts are dominated by Paul’s journey to captivity in Rome. The atmosphere of impending martyrdom is palpable from the farewell speech at Miletus onwards (20.25, 37-38). The prophet Agabus acts out Paul’s destiny and Paul’s friends vainly attempt to dissuade him (21.10-14). Paul is duly taken prisoner, escapes all the plots against him, and is despatched to Rome. During the voyage he acts as a prophet, more precisely as the prophet Jonah. Before they start the final voyage he prophesies disaster to deaf ears (27.10-12). Then the voyage can be neatly divided up between a conventional and well-informed account of a doomed sea-voyage (27.9, 12-20, 27-30a, 36-42, 43b-28.2) and the Jonah-like appearances of Paul (27.21-26, 30b-35, 43a; 28.3-10). Like Jonah, Paul springs into prominence at the height of the storm and promises safety to the crew. The difference is that, whereas Jonah is the cause of their disaster, Paul is the cause of their survival. This does not lessen the surprise that Paul, a prisoner, should harangue the crew, and seemingly take command of proceedings, acting as a prophet both by his foretelling and by his own imperviousness to harm and his miraculous healing of Publius’ father.


Opposition to the Spirit

Running through the book of the Acts is the theme of opposition to the Spirit which comes to view in the series of interludes of magic and false worship as each new step is taken in the expansion of the faith. Each encounter has its own story to tell, each has its own local colour; there is no dull repetition. They show the variety of opposition to be encountered by Christianity from religion and magic in the hellenistic world.


·        Simon Magus (8.18-25). As soon as the Way spreads beyond Judaea, the first opponent is magic. Although Simon meekly accepts the superiority of Christianity, his fault lies in treating it as a superior form of magic. The manifestation of his wickedness comes immediately after the gift of the Spirit, as though each advance of the Spirit will immediately be met by some new opposition. Not surprisingly, in view of Luke’s frequent warnings about the dangers of wealth and avarice, he is brought down by greed for money.

·        Bar-Jesus/Elymas (13.4-12). The advance to the next stage of the mission, Paul’s first missionary journey, is also marked by an encounter with magic. Again, the special imparting of the Spirit to Paul for his missionary endeavour (13.1-3) is immediately followed by an encounter with a ‘son of the devil’ (13.10). The magician was presumably the proconsul’s official astrologer, interpreting stars and omens to him, an officer essential to any Roman magistrate[47]. The wit of the story is that, once blinded, he is unable to fulfil his office, which would involve interpreting the stars.

·        Idolatry in Lycaonia ((14.11-18). This scene should perhaps be included as an encounter with popular religion, though not with magic, a further instance of the sort of religious competition to the Way, and a further neat little vignette in the best manner Luke’s witty little stories. It has been discussed on p. 9-10.

·        The soothsayer of Philippi (16.16-24). Guided by the Spirit in the form of a Macedonian[48], Paul has made the decisive crossing into Europe for the first time. Success with Lydia is immediately followed by a confrontation with magic. This is more a popular, fairground sort of magic, a little itinerant show for a small fee, no doubt jostling for attention in the market-place with sausage-sellers and other attractions. The girl’s spirit is no match for Paul’s Spirit and has to go, even though she does have to speak the truth about the servants of the Most High God, a nice piece of irony!

·        The Sons of Sceva (19.11-19). Again, the coming of the Spirit upon the disciples of John at Ephesus (19.6) is followed by another encounter with magic. This time it is an attempt at magical misuse of the name of Jesus – a little hard after the seemingly magic use of items of Paul’s laundry in 19.12! It is a neat little story: these Jewish exorcists perhaps rely on their high-priestly ancestry (no high priest of the name of Sceva or Scaevola is known – he may well be imaginary) and their sacred number of seven, but even so the spirit does Paul’s work for him, pausing only to make his aggressive witticism before pouncing upon them and mauling them. Further local colour is given by the burning of magical books: spells could fetch a high price, and Ephesian spells were considered especially effective, according to Plutarch (Quaestiones Convivialium, 760e).








The presentation of Christology in Acts is, true to Luke’s form as a skilled artist, consistent with his whole purpose, and indeed makes his purpose even clearer. Luke’s problem was how it could be that Israel, having been prepared over many ages for the saving action of God in his Messiah, should have rejected the Messiah. The importance of this question is that it raises the corresponding question, is the Christian any safer? Does God withdraw his promises, or at least fail to accomplish them? Is it not possible that the Christian too will fail to benefit from the promises of God?  So Luke’s emphasis throughout this second volume is to show firstly that the salvation promised to Israel has indeed been offered to them, even if a large part of the nation refused this offer, and secondly that the gentiles have entered into the inheritance of Israel.


It is impossible, therefore, to view the Christology of Acts without viewing previously the theology of Acts. That is, Luke’s view of Christ is thoroughly dependent on his view of God. The primary source for the theology of Acts is the speeches made by the main characters; they are, after all, designed to direct the reader’s thoughts.


The initiative rests with God

In all the speeches it is God who takes the initiative in directing the course of Israel’s history, which will issue in the history of Jesus:


Jesus the Nazarene was a man commended to you by God through the miracles and portents and signs that God worked through him when he was among you, as you know. This man, who was put into your power by the deliberate intention and foreknowledge of God, you took and had crucified and killed by men outside the Law. But God raised him to life… (Ac 2.22-23).


Again in Peter’s address to the people in Ac 3.13: ‘It is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our ancestors, who has glorified his servant Jesus.’ In Stephen’s long summary of Israel’s history it is God who initiates each stage, the call of Abraham, the fulfilment of the promise to Abraham, the exodus, the call of Moses, the settlement in Canaan and permission to build the Temple. Paul too, in his address to the Jews of Antioch in Pisidia, concentrating this time on David, attributes all the impetus to God. Consonantly with this, the resurrection is always described as the action of God. In the three great prophecies of the resurrection in Mark (Mk 8.31; 9.31; 10.34) Jesus will rise (avni,sthmi) from the dead. In Acts, on the other hand, the intransitive ‘rise’ is used only once (Ac 17.3). whereas six times God raises Jesus from the dead (2.24, 32; 3.26; 13.32, 34; 17.31). Similarly, using the verb evgei,rw, Paul often uses the passive ‘he was raised’ (Rm 4.25; 6.4; 1 Cor 15. 4, 12, 13, etc), whereas Acts always has explicitly ‘God raised him’ (Ac 3.15; 4.10; 5.30; 10.40; 13.30, 37). In the account of the Ascension it is again stressed that all the initiative rests with God: the disciples are to await the fulfilment of the promise of the Father (Ac 1.4), ‘the Father decides the times by his own authority’ (1.7), and Jesus is the passive recipient of the divine action: he ‘was lifted up’ (1.9, 11) and the divine cloud ‘took’ him from their sight (1.9)[49].


A Christology within Judaism

Since Luke is stressing constantly that God has brought to fulfilment the promises made to his people, to Abraham, Moses and David, it is consistent that he calls Jesus ‘the Christ’, that is, ‘the Messiah’. For Paul ‘Christ’ had become part of Jesus’ name, no longer consciously a messianic title, but in Acts ‘the Christ’ is used with the article, specifically as a Greek translation of the Hebrew ‘Messiah’ (2.31, 36; 3.18; 4.26; 5.42; 8.5; 9.22; 17.3; 18.5, 28; 26.23), the long-awaited anointed one in whom the promises reach their fulfilment.


The novelty which Luke introduces is that this Messiah is a suffering Messiah. This is a new conception, for nowhere in Judaism is it suggested that the Messiah would be a suffering figure. The Messiah of Judaism is always a powerful representative of God, God’s representative coming on earth and bringing God’s purposes to completion. Luke achieves by introducing the word and notion of pai/j (see p. 22). In Deutero-Isaiah a pai/j, a servant or a son, had been prophesied who would fulfill God’s will, lead Israel to perfection and bring the light also to the nations. Particularly four poems have been isolated as the Songs of the Servant of the Lord (Is 42.1-4; 49.1-6; 50.4-9; 52.13-53.12), the fourth being especially the song of the Suffering Servant of the Lord. The Servant or pai/j of the Lord passes through suffering, humiliation and death, to be vindicated and bring the triumph of God. Whether the Servant of these poems was originally envisaged as the People of Israel itself, suffering down the ages and a light to the nations, or as the prophet Deutero-Isaiah himself or as a promised future Messiah, has long been disputed among scholars. However, in considering its usage in Acts, we are more concerned with its application than with its original meaning. Matthew once uses these passages in a formula-quotation to explain Jesus’ healings (Mt 12.17-21, quoting Is 42.1-4), but nowhere else in the New Testament outside Acts is direct reference made to these poems or is Jesus referred to as pai/j. It is an attractive suggestion that Jesus himself saw himself as the Suffering Servant of the Lord, and alluded to the fourth poem at the Last Supper with the word ‘poured out for many’. This solitary allusion would then  provide the key to all Jesus’ sayings about service. It is, however, without clear echo anywhere in the gospels.


In Luke’s Infancy Narrative Jesus is referred to purely factually, and without any special significance, as ‘the child Jesus’ when he remained behind in the Temple (Lk 2.43). In the Acts, however, these poems become a powerful way of ranking the suffering of Jesus into the expectations of Judaism. Already in the incident of the Road to Emmaus (Lk 24.26, 46) the Risen Christ had taught the disciples that ‘the Christ must suffer, and so enter into his glory’. This is followed in the Acts by the repeated proclamation that the Messiah must suffer:


Peter’s address to the people: ‘God carried out what he had foretold when he said through all his prophets that his Christ would suffer’ (3.18).

The prayer of the persecuted Church: ‘Herod and Pontius Pilate plotted together with the gentile nations and the people of Israel against your holy servant Jesus whom you anointed’ (4.27).

Paul to the Jews of Thessalonika: ‘It was ordained that the Christ should suffer and rise from the dead’(17.3).

Paul to King Agrippa: ‘What the prophets and Moses himself said would happen, that the Christ was to suffer, and that, as the first to rise from the dead, he was to proclaim a light for our people and for the gentiles’ (26.22-23, a direct allusion to Isaiah 42.6, ‘a light for the gentiles’).


Paul also quotes to the Jews of Antioch in Pisidia the Song of the Servant, using it to explain his turning to the gentiles: ‘For this is what the Lord has commanded us to do when he said, “I have made you a light to the nations”’ (13.47).


In other ways also Luke sees the resurrection as the culmination of Israel’s history. He is represented as the holy and just one (di,kaioj 3.14), incarnating the holiness and justice (dikaiosu,nh) of God, as the Messiah was expected to do (Zc 9.9; Ps Sol. 17.35; Ws 2.18). Above all, he is the prophet. In the gospel of Luke Jesus is represented frequently as a prophet, but in the Acts he has become the prophet (3.22; 7.37). This means the prophet expected for the last times, after a dearth of prophecy for many generations. The prophet was expected to be a prophet like Moses (Dt 18.15), and so in Stephen’s speech Jesus is represented precisely as a prophet like Moses, twice rejected (see p. 22). The resurrection in particular is seen as a fulfilment of the promises to Israel, that a descendant of David would sit upon his throne (Peter at Pentecost, 2.29-36, quoting Psalms 16 and 110; Paul to the Jews of Antioch, 13.23-24, 34-37). This would be the rebuilding of the fallen hut of David, says James at the Council of Jerusalem (15.16).

A referential shift                                                                                                              The most important change of Christology which has taken place in Acts is that titles which formerly belonged to God alone are now attributed to the Risen Jesus.

Lord                                                                                                                               Perhaps the most radical statement, relying on the double use of ‘Lord’ in Psalm 110, is the climax of Peter’s speech at Pentecost, ‘Let the whole house of Israel know that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified Lord and Christ’ (2.36). ‘Christ’ we have already discussed. The significance of the title ‘Lord’ here given to Jesus needs careful precision. The word ku,rioj has a wide range of meaning, and especially in the vocative can be no more than a polite address, not implying worship or cult. At the other extreme, it can also be the Greek translation of the sacred tetragrammaton, the name hwhy, so sacred that it cannot be pronounced. In the gospels Jesus is frequently addressed as ku,rie, ‘Lord’ or ‘Sir’, but never in Mark is o` ku,rioj (with the article, ‘the Lord’) applied to Jesus, with the possible exception of Mk 11.3//Mt 21.3, ‘The Lord has need of it’, where it is unclear who this ‘Lord’ is, whether it is Jesus or God. The gospel of Luke is less careful, as though Luke, already aware of the later usage, allows post-resurrection language to slip in. Elizabeth, in her greeting to Mary, asks why ‘the mother of my Lord’ should come to her (Lk 1.43) and the angels at Jesus’ birth sing ‘today is born to you a saviour who is Christ Lord’ (Lk 2.11)[50]. So in his own editorial comment Luke occasionally calls Jesus ‘the Lord’: 7.13, ‘seeing her, the Lord had pity on her’; 7.19, ‘the Lord sent to him, saying…’; 11.39, ‘the Lord said to him’, cf. 10.1, 39; 13.15; 17.5, 6; 19.8; 22.61. In the Acts, however, the expression is freely used of Jesus in what is clearly a divine sense. It is, of course, not always immediately obvious what constitutes ‘a divine sense’.

·        One set of instances is when a biblical text originally used of the Lord God is applied to Jesus. This occurs three more times in Peter’s speech at Pentecost.

o       In Ac 2.20 the ‘great day of the Lord’, mentioned by Joel 3.4, is applied to the day of the resurrection of Jesus, as is made clear in the following verses. The Day of the Lord had been, since the time of Amos 5.18, the eschatological day when Yahweh would visit his people to set everything right. Jesus is put in the position of ‘the Lord’ in what is possibly the earliest writing of the New Testament, 1 Thessalonians 4.13-17. The early date of this referential shift is guaranteed by the retention in 1 Cor 16.22 of the Aramaic formula MARANATHA[51]

o       In Ac 2.21 ‘all who call on the name of the Lord’ (Joel 3.5) is, for the first of many times in Acts, applied to those who call on the name of Jesus. Indeed, ‘those who call on the name of the Lord’, meaning the Lord Jesus, invoked as a sovereign power to save, becomes a technical term for the followers of Jesus (Ac 9.14, 21; 22.16, etc, and see p. 19-20)[52].

o       A third time, a verse of Psalm 16.8, ‘I kept the Lord ever in my sight’, is applied to Jesus.

o       Again, in the prayer of the apostles under persecution, the psalm-verse ‘princes plot together against the Lord and his Anointed’ (Ps 2.2) is applied to the plots against Jesus and his followers, and Jesus is invoked by the title ‘Lord’ (Ac 4.26-29). Invocation of Jesus as Lord in prayer is of special significance, for worship offered is the determining criterion of divinity.

·        A singularly striking instance is at the martyrdom of Stephen, in view of the careful parallel delineated between the death of Jesus and the death of Stephen. Whereas Jesus had asked forgiveness from God for his killers and had died with ‘Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit’ (Lk 23.46) on his lips, Stephen dies saying, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit’ (Ac 7.59) and asks forgiveness for his killers, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them’. Whereas Jesus before the Sanhedrin had claimed to share the divine throne – as they thought, blasphemously - ‘From now on the son of man will be seated at the right hand of the power’ (Lk 23.69), now Stephen proclaims, ‘I see the heavens thrown open and the son of man standing at the right hand of God’ (Ac 7.56).

Saviour[53]                                                                                                                                 In the Old Testament God is the Saviour or Redeemer, a title given to God especially at the time of the Babylonian Exile, notably in the second part of Isaiah 41.14; 43.14, but also Jeremiah 50.34. In the New Testament also the title is normally reserved for God: ‘My spirit rejoices in God my saviour’ (Lk 1.47); ‘God’s power for the salvation of everyone who has faith’ (Rm 1.16); ‘by the command of God our saviour’ (1 Tm 1.1); ‘to God our saviour alone be glory’ (Jude 25). In the gospels both John and Luke once refer to Jesus as saviour (Lk 2.11, ‘today is born to us a saviour’; Jn 4.42, ‘truly this is the saviour of the world’). It is not until Acts[54] that this divine attribute is freely applied to Jesus: 4.12 ‘in none other is there salvation’; 5.31. ‘God has raised him up to be leader and saviour’ – God himself has given to Jesus the divine prerogative of being Saviour; 13.23, God has raised up for Israel one of David’s descendants, Jesus, as saviour’. The prerogative of God as Saviour is now shared with the Risen Jesus.

It has often been claimed that Luke has no soteriology, does not regard the crucifixion as a saving event. This claim is made chiefly because in his parallel to Mk 10.45//Mt 20.28 he omits the phrase ‘and to give his life as a ransom for many’. It is more accurate to say that Luke has no doctrine of sacrifice or of blood-atonement than that he has no soteriology. It is, however, true that in Acts the stress of salvation is on the resurrection rather than the Cross. Only once does Paul affirm that salvation is by the Cross, ‘…the Church of God which he bought by the blood of his own son’ (20.28). Otherwise the crucfixion is no more than the preliminary to the resurrection (2.23-24; 3.15; 4.10; 10.39-40; 13.28-34;). On other occasions the crucifixion is simply missed out (17.30-31; 23.8; 24.15; 25.19). The apostles’ mission was to preach the Resurrection from the Dead.



Alexander L, ‘The Book of Acts in its Literary Setting’ in The Book of Acts in its First Century Setting, ed Bruce W. Winter and Andrew D. Clarke (Eerdmans, 1993)


Alexander L, The Preface to Luke’s Gospel, literary conventions and social context in Luke 1.1-4 and Acts 1.1 (Cambridge University Press, 1993)


Aune, David, The New Testament in its Literary Environment (Westminster Press, 1987)


Barrett CK, Acts [International Critical Commentary], (Edinburgh, T&T Clark, 2 vols, 1994 and 1998)


Bauckham R, The Book of Acts in its Palestinian Setting, ed. R. Bauckham (Eerdmans, 1995)


Bowker JW, ‘Speeches in Acts, a study in proem and yelammadenu form’, NTS 14 (1967/8), 96-111


Bowker JW, ‘What Minorities?’ in Mighty Minorities, ed. David Hellholm, etc. (Scandinavian University Press, 1995)


Davies WD and Allison, Dale C, Matthew (ICC, Edinburgh, T&T Clark, 1997)


Dodd CH, The Apostolic Preaching and its Developments (1936)


Fitzmyer JW, ‘Pauline theology’ in The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (Geoffrey Chapman, 1989), article 82


Gourgues M, ‘Lecture christologique de Psaume CX’, Revue biblique 83 (1976), 5-24


Hellholm D, Mighty Minorities, ed. David Hellholm etc (Scandinavian University Press, 1995)


Hurtado L, Lord Jesus Christ (Eerdmans, 2003)


Johnson, Luke Timothy, Acts of the Apostles [Sacra Pagina] (Minneapolis, Liturgical Press, 1992)


Johnson, Luke Timothy, Luke [Sacra Pagina] (Minneapolis, Liturgical Press, 1991)


Keck L, Studies in Luke-Acts, ed. Leander E. Keck and J. Louis Martyn (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1966)


Klauck H-J,  Magic and Paganism in Early Christianity (Edinburgh, T&T Clark, 2000)


Klauck H-J, Gemeinde – Amt – Sakrament (Würzburg, Echter, 1989)


Kremer J, Les Actes des Apotres (Leuwen UP, 1979)


Lambrecht J, ‘Paul’s Farewell Address at Miletus’ in J. Kremer (ed.) Les Actes des Apotres (Leuwen UP, 1979)


Légasse S, ‘Paul’s pre-Christian career according to Acts’, in The Book of Acts in its Palestinian Setting, ed. R. Bauckham (Eerdmans, 1995)


Pervo, Richard I, ‘Must Luke and Acts belong to the same genre?’ Society of Biblical Literature 1989 Seminar Papers, ed. D.J. Lull (Atlanta, Scholars Press, 1989)


Pervo, Richard I, Profit with Delight (Philadelphia, Fortress, 1987)


Sherwin-White AN, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament (OUP 1963)


Talbert CH, Literary Pattersn, Theological Themes and the Genre of Luke-Acts (Missoula, Scholars Press, 1974)


Tannehill RC, The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts: a literary interpretation (Philadelphia, Fortress, 1986, 1990)


Taylor J, Les Actes des Deux Apotres (Paris, Gabalda, 1994)


Tuckett C, Christology and the New Testament (Edinburgh University  Press, 2001)


Vielhauer P, ‘On the “Paulinism” of Acts’ in Studies in Luke-Acts, ed. Leander E. Keck and J. Louis Martyn (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1966)


Wansbrough H, ‘Jewish Methods of Exegesis in the New Testament’, Studien zum neuen Testament und seiner Umwelt 25 (2000), p. 219-244


Winter, Bruce W, The Book of Acts in its First Century Setting, ed Bruce W. Winter and Andrew D. Clarke (Eerdmans, 1993)


[1] The identity of the author of these two volumes will be discussed below. The only important question is his relationship to Paul. The traditional identification as ‘the beloved physician’ is founded on Col 4.14 (but it is an open question whether Colossians was written by Paul) and 2 Tm 4.11 (and it is highly doubtful that Second Timothy was written by Paul). In any case, Luke is a form of Lucius, one of the seven most common names in the Roman world. These two Lukes may be different people, and neither indentical with the author of the Gospel and Acts. Similarly, it would be a mistake to unify as one person all those named Mary in the New Testament, or Judas or James, for all were common names.

[2] It will not be discussed here, but will become increasingly obviously irrefutable in the course of the work, especially from the similarity of literary techniques and of theological approaches. See Tannehill, 1990.

     [3]Tacitus, Agricola, 30-34

[4] A theology student of mine once did this so perfectly that he was arrainged for plagiarism until he pointed out that the letters of the melody were those of his music teacher’s name.

[5] E.g. S. Légasse 1995.

[6] The case from Pliny cited by A.N. Sherwin-White 1963, p. 68, of transfer of a hearing from one city to another of his province is no parallel. The idea of a provocatio in which no charges are preferred (Ac 25.26; 26.32) is unhelpful.

[7] There is a whole series of links here between the martyrdom of Stephen and the trial and death of Jesus. There is the accusation of blasphemy, the false witnesses, the charge of speaking against the Temple the hearing before the Sanhedrin, the unjustified sentence, removal from the city, forgiveness of the killers, the final words (‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit’ and ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit’), burial by pious disciples. Highly significant, however, of the difference between the eras is the final commendation no longer to the Father but to the Lord Jesus. Similarly Jesus says at his trial, ‘The son of man will be seated at the right hand of the Power of God’ (Lk 22.69). Stephen, however, proclaims, ‘I can see the heaven thrown open and the son of man standing at the right hand of God’ (Ac 7.56). The son of man is now standing, ready perhaps to receive his witness, perhaps to defend him, at all events, empowered and active.

[8] Omne tulit punctum qui miscuit utile dulci

Lectorem delectando pariterque monendo.

[9] Reinforced in Pervo 1989.

[10] The flippant style (Paul ‘sipping sherry with the high priests of the imperial cult’, p.10) should not be allowed to alienate.

[11] International Critical Commentary, Edinburgh, T&T Clark, vol 2 (1998),  p.xlix.

[12] Aune 1987,  p. 80.

[13]Taylor 1994, p. 112.

[14] H-J Klauck gives valuable background for this in Klauck 1989. Community of goods had long been a utopian ideal, proposed already in Plato’s Republic (416, 543B) and mocked by Aristophanes (Eccl. 611-709). It was already put into practice at Qumran (1QS 5.3 etc), and was one of the features of the Essenes admired by Pliny (Natural History 5.73).

[15] By this expression nothing is implied about the historicity of the story. The word is used in its original sense of mu/qoj, ‘the story of’, a paradeigmatic or exemplary story, which may be true or false, but vividly conveys the lesson in story form. The perfect example (this claims to be true, but has no pretensions to being historical) is the myth of the Cave in Plato’s Republic, book 6.

[16] The Greco-Roman world was intrigued by distant Ethiopia especially after Nero’s expedition up the Nile in 61/62. There may also be a reminiscence of Psalm 68.31, ‘Ethiopia will stretch out its hands to God’ or Ps 87.4.

[17] It is perhaps worth commenting that, according to Acts, the first Christian of Europe is a woman.

[18] Perhaps too dramatic. The high priest’s writ (Ac 9.2) would certainly have no authoritative force in Damascus, nor any power of extradition to Jerusalem. He had no legal authority outside Judaea.

[19] Vigorous language is used throughout the episode, which disappears in most literary renderings.

[20] Gourgues 1976.

[21] De Decalogo, 44

[22] This is probably an elaborate numerical cryptogram. The Hebrew has ‘t on their foreheads’, a letter written at that time as +. However, t is pronounced ‘taw’, which can also be written wj, which has the same numerical value as the abbreviated name of God, hy. The faithful are to have the name of God plastered on their foreheads (P. Barthélemy, Lecture delivered at Fribourg in 1962).

[23] The two quotations of the Psalms leave no doubt that the speech was composed in Greek, and with the use of the Greek rather than the Hebrew Bible. Psalm 18.5 in Hebrew reads ‘traps of death’, whereas Peter in 2.24 quotes the Greek ‘pangs of death’. Psalm 16.10 in Hebrew reads ‘you will not allow your holy one to see the pit’, i.e. you will not allow your holy one to be killed, whereas in 2.27 Peter quotes the Greek ‘see corruption’. The argument is not that Jesus was not killed but that his body did not corrupt; it therefore depends on the Greek wording. The speech therefore stems from Luke rather than from Peter.

[24]Dodd 1936.

[25] This is a most unsatisfactory translation. ‘Upright’ suggests a certain narrow strictness. ‘Righteous’ is no better, for it has no meaning at all outside ‘churchy’ language. The Greek word di,kaioj designates God’s faithfulness to his promises, his total reliability. God does not give me my deserts, as human justice would dictate, but overlooks my infidelity and gives me what he promised in the Covenant. This ‘justice’/‘uprightness’/‘righteousness’ is the heart of all Covenant theology, expressed most clearly in Romans 3.21-26.

[26] Pai/j is a good deal more intimate, affectionate and closer than ‘Servant’, but – somewhat as ‘Boy!’ could be used in colonial English to a servant – it can mean ‘servant’ as well as ‘child’, and is used in the LXX of these passages to translate the Hebrew db[. These poems might well be more appropriately named ‘The Songs of the Child of the Lord’.

[27] The allusion is clear only in the Hebrew of Is 53.12 ‘poured out to death’ twml hr[h, a verb used specifically of the sacrificial outpouring of blood. It is obscured by the LXX translation paredo,qh ‘he was handed over’, and consequently does not surface in many English translations. See Davies and Allison 1997, vol 3, p. 474.

[28] This intervention of the Pharisee Gamaliel is usually considered to represent for Luke a voice dissentient from the Sadducees and favourable to the apostles. He was, after all, Paul’s teacher (Ac 22.3), and his championing of the cause would be for Luke both a demonstration of his wisdom and an instance of support in high places (as 13.1, 12; 16.14; 17.12, 34). Luke Timothy Johnson, however, insists that he was as bad as the rest of them (Johnson 1992, p. 99, 102-3) – perhaps merely more cynical. At all events, it does not divert them from the illogical flogging which gives the apostles ‘the honour of suffering humiliation for the sake of the name’.


[29] The reconstruction is made by Bowker 1967/8. Since the actual texts are not quoted in the sermon, it must necessariily remain hypothetical. However, some Jewish exegetical techniques are certainly evident: the o`,sia o`,sion in verses 34 and 35 (‘holy things’, ‘Holy One’) are strung together in a manner typical of gezerah shawa, one of the established rules of Jewish exegesis.

[30] James’ use of Amos 9.12 (Ac 15.17a) requires the Greek rather than the Hebrew text of Amos. The standard Hebrew text reads ‘Edommda, whereas the Greek reads ‘Adam’ or ‘man/humanity’ mra, which is necessary for the sense used by James. The only difference in the textual readings is the sharp or gentle angle of the middle Hebrew letter.

[31] Bowker 1995.

[32] Plutarch, Moralia 516C uses the image of a pretentious ignoramus who has picked up a few random ideas from Socrates.

[33] Loveday Alexander gives a full account of the comparison of Paul to Socrates in Acts in Alexander 1993. She instances the divine call, the accusation of introducing new gods, the catalogue of labours, persecution and mockery, trial and defence, and prison-scenes.

[34] Commentators from Jerome onwards all point out that all known versions of this inscription are plural, ‘To Unknown Gods’. Luke is surely expressing his own theology, and helping Paul’s position, by putting it in the singular.

[35] Pi,stin parascw.n pa/sin, v. 31

[36] Zwh.n kai, pnoh.n, v. 25

[37] Pa,ntaj pavntacou/, v. 30

38 Lambrecht 1979, p. 307-337.

[39] The account of Paul’s stays at Ephesus is, however, somewhat strange. The first visit lasted two (19.10) or three (20.31) years, but there is not enough content to it. It is enlivened by the burlesque of the discomfiture of the sons of Sceva, a superb piece of Lukan writing, cf. p. 38. In a lovely piece of mockery of magic, the Jewish exorcists are taught a sharp lesson for aspiring to Paul’s powers, and flee humiliated, nude and wounded (19.13-19). On the second visit the brilliant scene of the silversmiths’ riot is full of life and local colour, but hardly concerns Paul at all; he is kept well out of the way. No reason is given why he moves on afterwards (20.1), and there is nothing in either scene corresponding to Paul’s dramatic language in 2 Cor 1.8-10 (under unendurable pressure, carrying sentence of death in himself but saved from actual death). Did Luke deliberately refrain from telling his readers of some awkward or humiliating check to the mission, and was the real reason why Paul summoned the elders of Ephesus to Miletus a desire to avoid the dangers of a further visit to Ephesus?

[40] The frequency of its mention in Paul’s own letters shows his concern. It was to be the great act of reconciliation, a tribute by the gentile churches to the mother-church at Jerusalem, recognising their indebtedness to the source of their faith, persuading the Jerusalem community that the gentile communities (and, more importantly, their leader and founder, Paul, who had had such violent and unreconciled disagreements with Peter and with James’ agents both in Antioch and Galatia) were fully Christian. When Paul reaches Jerusalem with the money, it is mentioned only by allusion. It is as though the ‘brothers’ first gave Paul a smart slap on the wrist for teaching that the Law need not be observed, and then told him he must ‘launder’ this gentile money by paying for the performance of the vow in the Temple (21.17-24). The only direct mention in Acts of the Collection is 24.17. Did Luke not realise its importance to Paul (and in that case can he really have been Paul’s travelling-companion?)? Or did he suppress mention of it because it turned out to be a source of dissension rather than of unity?

[41] See my article, Wansbrough 2000.

[42] Would he have had the authority to convene a meeting of the Sanhedrin, and as a gentile would he have been permitted to be present (22.30)?

[43] They lived together – in what sense is not entirely clear, but it gave a good deal of scandal.

[44] Three translations have been suggested for this gibe: ‘You want to persuade me that you have made me a Christian in a moment’ or ‘You are persuading me in a moment to play the Christian’ or ‘You are confident that you are making me a Christian in a moment.’ I find the irony of the last best suits the scene.

[45] Fitzmyer 1992, #64

[46] A particularly important clue is given by Ac 16.7, where the Spirit is called ‘the Spirit of Jesus’. This suggests that by the presence of the Spirit Jesus himself is present and guiding the community and its representatives. This gives the lie to Christopher Tuckett’s contention that, by contrast to Matthew and John, the Christology of Acts is an ‘absentee Christology’ (Tuckett, 2001, p. 144).

[47] Hans-Josef Klauck quotes other examples in Klauck 2000,  p. 51.

[48] This is a convention in hellenistic writing. According to Pliny, Scipio Africanus was also summoned to Africa by a similar vision of a woman symbolising Africa.

[49] Philipp Vielhauer, in Vielhauer 1966, regards such statements as Ac 13.33 as ‘adoptionist’, and comments that ‘the author of Acts is in his Christology pre-Pauline’ (p. 48). I fail to see the force of either comment.

[50] The Infancy Narratives, where Luke is composing freely, without the Vorlage of Mark, provide a privileged view of Luke’s own theology.

[51] In the earliest manuscripts there are no divisions between words. If this is read ‘marana tha’ it means ‘Come, Lord!’; if it is read ‘maran atha’ is means ‘The Lord is coming’.

[52] L. Hurtado, in his excellent discussion in Hurtado 2003, p. 179-183, proclaims enthusiastically, ‘It is, however, an absolutely more stunning move still for early Christians to have taken the biblical expression that means the cultic worship of God as referring also to cultic acclamation/invocation of Jesus’, p. 181.

[53] See also p. 19 for Luke’s use of the term.

[54] And in the later writings of the New Testament, where indiscriminately God (1 Tm 1.1; 2.3, 13; Ti 1.3; 2.10; 3.4) and Jesus (2 Tm 1.10; Ti 1.4; 2.13; 2 Pt 1.1, 11; 2.20; 3.2, 18) are called ‘Saviour’.